20.10.2011 - Youth Drive Change - UNESCO Youth Forum 2011

Women in Kenya: Still halfway to empowerment but making strides

© UNESCO / Hend Sallam

In Kenya women are guaranteed one-third of all elected or appointed posts in government. This amendment was made to ensure women’s involvement in political and public life, but do Kenyan women feel that they are enabled to attain high positions on their own, without government backing? Apparently not! Women in Kenya, as many women elsewhere, face many difficulties that hinder their participation in public life. It’s neither their reluctance to step in, nor something they have control over, but rather responsibilities and the many burdens tied up by their personal obligations that consume much of their time and effort that could have been placed in a different outlet.

Their absence from political life or even public life is not related to their motivation. Motivation exists but even it is not enough. Questions that might arise to one’s mind include, is constitutional intervention the only solution to ensure women will be allowed representation in public life? Are quotas an effective way to make sure women are active in politics? Or are women capable of taking over leading posts without the need of constitutional intervention or other kind of regulations? Reality in Kenya shows that this is not the case. Since women in Parliament were taking up only 10% of seats - which is due to their efforts without regulatory intervention - while after the recent amendment to the constitution, women are guaranteed up to 30% of all posts in the government whether being elected or nominated. The gap shows that still much could be done to promote women’s empowerment. This scenario is often seen in other countries, not only in Kenya, but the gap between actual and potential representation of women shows that we still halfway there. But would we ever achieve a higher target like the 30% without constitutional guarantees? The question seems to be unanswered for now.

In the same context, we interviewed young activist promoting women’s civic engagement in Kenya, Ms. Felogene Anumo.

To what extent can the Constitution help women in Kenya in getting their rights?

I think Constitution is the supreme law of any country and all the laws comes from the constitution. In my country: Kenya, They have put really good laws including bills of rights, also issues that affect health, and women.

For instance, the recently made amendments in the Kenyan constitution advocate for women to take up leading positions by requiring for every elective or nominative position, there has to be minimum 2/3 gender, which means 1/3 has to come from and be filled with the minority gender.

While my country used to have only 10% of women who are elected and nominated in the Parliament. So definitely I believe the Constitution has paved the way especially for women to participate especially in political life which involves elections and nominations.

Talking about Kenyan women in particular, do you think they have taken their full rights or not yet?

I can say we are in the halfway. We came from far but we are going even further. But I just want to take the typical Kenyan woman as an example “Wanjiku” In my country we call it Wanjiku.

So Wanjiku is a woman who wakes up early in the morning. She has a family, and she makes sure that all the boys go to school. When she takes the children to school, may be one of her children is sick. Subsequently she has to take him to the hospital where the strife begins; long queues exist outside obviously because the doctor didn’t come on time since many of them are unpaid.  She finds herself with her sick baby waiting until the doctor comes spending her whole day in the hospital while she could have done something for her society instead. What happens to her is what many women face, a struggle that ends with perhaps simple prescription of ‘Panadol” just because they are unlucky to afford other than that, they don’t have enough money!

So in your view who is responsible for retarding women’s status; the government, men, or women?

I think everyone has a responsibility, we shouldn’t blame people. But people have to take up the responsibility. The government should take up the responsibility of provision of healthcare, and good education. Also women should take up their role to speak out against issues they face. Unless you speak out, we will never really know what the problem is.

Yet Men must also be open to the women. Same as they are equal partners in the house, they have to be equal partners in the society, in the leading sectors. Eventually everybody needs to take up the responsibility.

Interview by Hend Sallam

This article was written by one of the Youth Bloggers of the 7th UNESCO Youth Forum. The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of UNESCO.

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