By Benard Ogoi
Women’s participation in the development of society continues to face a huge imbalance world over.
Here in Kenya, women still face many challenges especially at the grassroots level where different communities are deeply rooted in varied beliefs. Some of the beliefs have been used repeatedly to propagate patriarchy and in the end stalled their efforts to participate in decision making.
The data on equitable gender representation has been so wanting since Kenya’s independence, despite the leadership spanning over four decades under three Presidents.
Generally, women representation in elective positions and particularly parliament remains low; from 9 in the year 1999, 16 in 2003 to the current 22 in the 10th parliament.
The perception in a section of the society has been that women gang against men whenever they talk about gender equality, and that gender empowerment is about promoting women concerns only. However, it encompasses both men and women, and the perception is only intended at propagating the aspirations of men into the new constitutional dispensation.
While Kenyans now have a better constitution that guarantee the aspirations of its populace in many fronts, there is a reluctance to accept the change. ‘The men have been consuming 90 % of the bread and therefore they resist, yet all we are asking for is fairness in sharing the resources of this country,’ says Jane Thuo, AMWIK Executive Director. She adds that most people at the grassroots have been socialised to believe that only men can be leaders. ‘But this is unfortunate and we are optimistic that things are changing.’
The Cabinet has since approved a Bill to reserve all the 80 new constituencies for women only, but it remains to be seen whether this will be adopted especially following the controversies that have characterised the 2/3 maximum representation for either gender.
Well AMWIK is currently running community awareness programmes in Nyando and Tharaka Districts under the GGP III Project normally run by UN Women.
AMWIK Executive Director Jane W. Thuo sheds light on some of the issues of concern and role of AMWIK in the project.
Q. Why is AMWIK in this project?
A.The reason why AMWIK was formed was actually to see how the media can embrace and open up its space and cover issues not just in leadership, but also others that infringe on Human and Women Rights. In leadership there has existed a gap in terms of women participation. You can see from statistics that very few have been elected or appointed at national level compared to what we would really desire. Right now Rwanda is leading at 56% while Kenya is barely at 10%. Therefore this project has come in at a very handy time when the gap needs to be addressed. And we have implemented projects in various parts of the country using media and communication strategies, and therefore it is very much within our mandate.
Q. What prompted to think of Tharaka and Nyando for awareness creation?
A. If you look at the two regions you’ll realise that they are also marginalised areas with high levels of poverty. They have resources which have not been fully exploited, and therefore are still left behind even in terms of education that they have not participated very much in leadership. This is therefore a wakeup call to the communities so that we educate and sensitize the women that yes; you may be busy looking for food or taking care of the family, but still we need your input at leadership level, we must get the women from somewhere. We are also trying to reach out to the men down there and tell them the importance of ensuring equality, and appeal to them to support women who will offer themselves for the various positions.
Q. Why women find it difficult while vying for leadership?
A. Politics is a costly venture. When you declare your candidature then it also means that you need vast resources. But one of the key challenges for women has been inadequacy of the resources. Only a few of them can match what their male counterparts have. Unfortunately many women do not expressly own property, because for the married the property is always under their husbands, and they need to really negotiate so as to engage the family property in politics. Therefore many women have been discouraged from participating.
Q. Why have women insisted on achieving the 1/3 representation and not the other way round?
A. No one has said that it is only women who must form the one-third representation. In fact the constitution is very clear that it is not more than two-thirds representation of either gender. So women can as well form the two-thirds as long as men attain the one-third mark. And the fact that we will have an extra woman is a win-win situation for all, not a loss for men. Right now it is a loss for the Nation and the whole country. It is lose for men because they dominate and neglect the input of women and for women when they don’t participate, because they are not utilising their talents.
Q. What are the key areas for grassroots women to gain from the Constitution?
A. The constitution has created many opportunities for all even at the county level. So now women only need to offer themselves and gun for the over 1000 seats for representatives to the county assemblies nationwide. But whatever the number, all of them are up for grabs for both men and women.
Q. There is this notion that women are their own enemies. What do you think of it?
A. We’ve seen men fight for politics and they even kill their competitors, but we never say that they are their own worst enemies. So for me this is just a cliché created by those who want to perpetuate and maintain patriarchy in society to make women doubt themselves.
Q. Don’t you think the increased units of leadership and the additional MPs will be expensive for the common mwananchi?
A.The reforms may seem expensive yes, but as Kenyas we accepted this by passing the Constitution. In the mean time it will look expensive but that is only for a short term especially on the costs of putting up the necessary structures, and probably the uncertainty that comes with it. And therefore we need to agree that nothing good comes cheap; in fact cheap is expensive.
Q. What informs your point?
A.When you look at where we are 40 years after independence, we have paid the price because of a bad constitution. We must therefore be ready to invest on good governance, and ensure that the provisions in the constitution are implemented to the letter. This is the only way to tap into and exploit the resources that lie dormant at the grassroots.
Q. What is the intention of AMWIK organizing regular trainings for media practitioners?
A.It is important for the journalists to be sensitised and encouraged on their style of coverage to make sure that they offer space for all, so that it is not only the men in politics dominating our print and airspaces. The media also need to understand and embrace the spirit of constitutionalism as a provision given in the constitution in terms of press and media freedom for all.
Q. What gaps has AMWIK noticed in terms of media coverage of Gender issues?
A. One claim is that women leaders are never available for press conferences or when the media is soliciting for comments on topical issues. Women are somewhat hesitant, and when you talk to the women leaders you realise that truly they need publicity. But there is a general fear that too much publicity might also expose their private lives. Sometimes media attention is focussed on their hairstyles and mode of dressing, are portrayed as victims or as sexual objects. This underestimation leads to more stereotyping, and therefore they tend to have a phobia against the media so as not to influence their ability to get elected.
Q. So how are women going to let their issues reach their intended audiences?
A. If you look at the trend that our country is taking in the transition whereby people have to expose their lives to public scrutiny even when applying for public service positions, then we have no choice as women.
And we are saying that if women are going to be in leadership then they must also take the risk and be bold enough to have the public examine their private lives. An example has already been set by the Chief Justice and his Deputy, who were publicly grilled on their sexual orientations.
Q. What is your rallying call to women?
A. As women we must not sit back and watch as men define how to share the spoils at the constituency and senate levels, and even the Governors position. We must be willing to compete with the men on equal footing. We also need to understand that it is not only about achieving some minimum level of representation, but equal representation for all groups in the society.
We should also let our men who control most political parties, to understand that it is within their interests to seek out women to vie on their party tickets, so that they can also meet the minimum requirement.
Q. Any way forward?
A. More sensitization on the importance of respecting human rights; whether they are men, women or children, and appreciating that all have equal rights that should not be taken away arbitrarily. We exist equally and we need to take up our right spaces.