Kenya – Women’s Workshop Reviews Progress & Strategies
Author: Womens UN Report Network
Date: July 22, 2005
Twenty one years later after the 3rd United Nations Word Women Conference and
Kenyan women are taking stock of the gains made so far and the challenges on
During the recently concluded plus 21 conference, over 1000 women drawn from
across the country gathered at the Kenya International Conference Centre, the
venue of the 1985 world meet, in a one day workshop organised under the auspices
of the National Commission for Gender and Development.
The feeling was great, the company elevated and the vibrations cheerful as
the women, both rural and urban- the souls that sustain this country, jammed the
Amphitheatre to interrogate their past, review their present state and plan for
This was their day, and they had come out for it. Seated at the podium in
company of the president was former Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Chairperson Wilkister
Onsando, National Commission for Gender and Development (NCGD) Dr. Jacinta
Muteshi and assistant minister Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services
Alicen Chelaite, all women of purpose.
The entire decoration of the women rights movement leadership was all there.
Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Martha Karua, Assistant
ministers Betty Tett, Beth Mugo, Cecily Mbarire, former cabinet minister Jebii
Kilimo, nominated Mp Njoki Ndung’u. Even my good friend Koki Muli and her friend
Jane Kiragu were there too!
Although the women appreciated the gains made so far, including a larger
political leadership representation than before 1985, they were alive to the
fact that much more could be done. Chelaite, making her remarks, noted there
were now more women Mps, ministers and assistant ministers, permanent
secretaries and heads of state corporations than ever before.
“What we need now is empowerment from the government because we are an active
lot. We need to be supported by the government. We need our own fund, like the
youth, so that we can help ourselves economically to the same level and footing
with our male comrades”, she said.
But if Chelaite was more covert, Federation of Kenyan Women Lawyers
chairperson was more bold. Her sweet and womanly voice reverberating across the
amphitheatre, Muteshi read to the president the needs of the women amid cheers
It was her who threw the first salvo on the president by demanding a 50-50
women representation in elective and appointive leadership position, up from the
30 per cent the president had offered for civil service jobs in his Kenyatta day
The Kenyan women, she said, still feel marginalised when it comes to decision
making, want stringent laws enacted to guard off physical violation, security
increased, equality consciously promoted and the NCGD moved from Justice
ministry to the Office of the President.
A young women representative Saida Ali took over from where Mwenesi left
demanding an affirmative action within affirmative action and complaining the
older women were not giving the younger upcoming women a space and opportunity
She lashed out at the media and advertisers for repeatedly commercialising
the image of the woman and portraying her at most as a mere sexual object and
challenged the media to rather than continued in this dehumanizing trend, help
re-brand the image of the woman as an harbinger for positive change.
“Women political leaders in this country rarely make the headlines as their
male counterparts do and even when they do, they are always negatively presented
and skewed”, she complained and I could see from my seat Koki was nodding and
smiling in approval.
In the spirit of a rural woman, Wilkister spoke in Swahili and seconded
Mwenesi in seeking the 50-50 representation while at the same time lauding the
president for the 30 per cent offer. She asked the private sector to follow up
president Kibaki’s directive by entrenching affirmative action in their
But it was Mercy Mwamburi, the Coastal rural women representative who brought
the house down with her communique from the rural women which she laced with the
antics and body language of the Coastal women.
The rural women are heavily burdened by the HIV/AIDS scourge having been left
to take care of infected orphans of their dead sons and daughters with their
meagre means and pleaded with the government to consider establishing a special
orphans fund to bill them out.
She attributed the lack of more women Mps to loose Electoral Laws which leave
the well-endowed men to bribe voters at the expense of less-monied women
candidates and pleaded with the government to legislate against this anomaly
“otherwise we will never make a big impact in the August House”.
In his response, president Kibaki assured the women that their interests are
at the heart of his government but nevertheless challenged them to keep pushing
for their rights and not just look up to men to be “generous and donate” to
He appreciated women contribution saying they formed the most vibrant block
of workers and producers who contribute to the expanding GDP and who have made a
big impact especially among the rural communities. Any efforts to uplift the
quality of life of women will make a big contribution to the improvement of the
welfare of all Kenyans, he said.
“You are more than 50 per cent of the country’s population and if you are not
getting your rights, something is wrong. Take corrective measures and demand
from those of us in power to take them. We are solidly behind you but you must
lead the initiative”, he said.
He cautioned the women against presuming that men are stumbling blocks in
their way and said it was only natural for men to be seen to protect what they
have. The women would do better, he said, if they used their vast numbers to
push their way into position other than expecting the men to give in.
To speak in conference halls, the president said, is not enough and women
should take practical steps out there by ensuring their rights are safeguarded
in the proposed new constitution and tossing themselves into the fray of
“It is not enough to just speak in one meeting, Oh no! We need to see the
action beyond these words. Come out and seek your rights. We are solidly behind
you. Do not presume that we (men) are out to block you or that we are hostile to
your cause”, he told them.
He cited the establishment of a Ministry responsible for gender
mainstreaming, creation of a National Commission on Gender and Development,
signing into law the Sexual Offences Bill, establishment of a Task Force on
gender based violence, introduction of affirmative action in education and the
zero rating of the sanitary wear as some of the goodies his government had given
the women so far.
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