The Women and Governance programme seek to build the capacity of women; advocate and lobby for favorable laws and policies that are gender responsive, and engage in strategic partnership at international, national, county and community levels. The programme aims at consolidating the gains of women in the Constitution and secure effective implementation of the same through different institutions.
The National Assembly, and the Senate convened a twoday Parliamentary Seminar on Advancing Gender Equality in Kenya from 15th to 17th November 2018 in Naivasha.
The event brought together the leadership of Parliament, the Justice, Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Labour and Social Welfare and Health Committees of the two Houses including KEWOPA, and key stakeholders on advancing gender equality in Kenya.
The seminar’s objectives included building the capacity of Parliamentarians on CEDAW and other international and regional instruments, take stock of gender equality in Kenya and to identify key actions to better implement CEDAW and other regional and international commitments for women’s rights and gender equality.
At the end of the seminar, it was resolved that Parliament would expedite the enactment of the two-thirds gender rule Bill and look into amending and repealing legislation to be in accordance with the 2010 Constitution.
According to the statistics gathered by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), one-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. Child marriage affects girls in far greater numbers than boys and worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before they turned 18.
Although various countries across the globe have legislation to protect children’s rights and prevent early child marriages, very few laws in that aspect are truly implemented. There are different reasons for early child marriages especially for the girl child, for example, retrogressive cultures, failure to implement laws, high levels of poverty, social norms, religious or customary beliefs etc.
A child below the age of 18 is a minor and is considered incapable of entering legally binding contracts. How then can such a child be expected to understand the union of two people in a marriage?
Many girls from different conservative communities/families/towns are wedded to older men, often as old as their fathers but a girl who is yet to learn the ways of the world and has not yet physically or mentally matured cannot be expected to sustain the marriage. In Kenya, around 23% of the girls are married before they turn 18. Poverty, gender inequality, insecurities amongst tribes and communities, customs etc. have been identified to be the causes of child marriage in Kenya. According to UNICEF reports, Kenyan girls are sold in exchange for money or as a matter of prestige for the family, girls are married off at an early age and these girls, who aren’t adults yet, have no choice but to succumb to it because of societal pressure.
Coastal and North-Eastern parts of Kenya have high rates of child marriages due to the low levels of education, prevalence of superstitions and wrongly interpreted customs and religious beliefs, whereas, the capital city and the Central Kenya have low rates. Not only is it a violation of the girls’ right to choose but also a threat to their physical and mental well-being.
It is important for people to know that child marriage cannot be taken as a safe guard against immoral acts and especially girls cannot be the victims or the vulnerable class in such situations.
Both men and women are equal and must be treated with utmost dignity, equality, and respect. With Kenya’s commitment towards eliminating child, early and forced marriage, it is important for the members of the society to be proactive in doing the same. The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been considered a form of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (as most cases of FGM across the world have the mutilation imposed on the victim harmfully and without consent).FGM was not considered as an important issue in the global community until the 1990’s.
This changed in the 1990s with the global movement of violence against women (VAW).ConventionAgainst Torture and International Conference on Population and Development FGM has been practiced for several reasons, namely, to control female sexuality, as a social obligation, economic and aesthetic factors etc. and none are justified to promote gender-based violence/ violence against women. The misconception about FGM, that it is a religious practice, has also been proved to be an anti-religious practice by many religious leaders.
Female GenitalMutilation is normally carried out by older members of the ethnic group orcommunity andoften by women who lack proper medical training. It is also carried out bytraditional healthpractitioners, or a female member of the family. In a few or rare cases, medicalprofessionalsperform FGM, using sterile equipment in a clean environment. In Kenya, FGM is practiced by the most well-known traditional communities like Kisii, Masai, Kalenjin etc.
Although there has been progress for Kenya from 32% in 2003 to 21% in 2014, these communities still have FGM prevalence rates as high as 86, 78, 84 and 94 percent respectively.FGM in many communities of Kenya has also been considered as a sign for the readiness of a girl to get married. Beading is a common practice by the smaller and staunch traditional tribes whereby a girl (below 18 years) is approached by a relative and is made to wear a beads necklace denoting a brief or temporary marriage and the relative may have sexual intercourse with the girls.
CEDAW has recognized this as child rape and 6-year-old girls are also often victims of such practices. Although the Kenyan Government has made impressive laws on banning FGM, it is not as effective in dealing with superstitions and customary beliefs of the tribes and hence, the practice is ongoing through illegal or unauthorized means where women do it themselves to their children or relatives. Many women confessed to having problems with the practice but their fear of becoming ousted from the tribe or community holds them back.
Unless these women are empowered, such practices and many other practices that violate the rights and dignity of girls and women will continue to rise. There have been various researches conducted and reports made on issues related to FGM and child marriage in Kenya, they are often interrelated and can be tackled together with the efforts of the Civil Societies and the Government.Promoting equality and tolerance is the need of the hour for not only the prosperity of women and girls but the promotion of human rights in Kenya.
In partnership with various development partners, FIDA-Kenya has managed to sensitize, train and empower women workers in flower farms and tea farms. Through vernacular and national radio stations, roadshows and public forums, workers are enlighted about their labour and economic rights as encapsulated in the Employment Act and the Labour Relations Act. Labour Laws.
At the end of these trainings, these women are able to make better decisions about their choice of work stations as well as demand for better working conditions in their places of work.
That notwithstanding, the horticulture and tea sector continues to record numerous cases of violations of human and labour rights. Going forward, FIDA-Kenya endeavours to remain vigilant in this space to ensure that the women workers remain empowered both at the individual and collective level.
FIDA-Kenya works with various development partners to develop strategies and build support for various national issues, including the Two-Thirds Gender Bill, BBI, and the rising cases of femicide in the country.
There was optimism that there would be sufficient mobilizations to ensure the Bill was passed. However, when the Bill was tabled for the vote on the 28th of November 2018, Parliament was forced to defer the Gender Bill as only 212 Members of Parliament were present of the total number of 233 required to pass it. The bill was put on hold until February 2019.
Currently, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has been tasked with ensuring the implementation of the two-thirds gender principle.