Affirmative Action

International Womens Day 2010 : Chronology of Women’s Rights from Clara Zetkin to Angela Merkel

Posted on 8 March 2010. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Governance |

The right to vote and hold a political office is a fairly recent development for women. Read a timeline charting the milestones in equal rights for women from Clara Zetkin to Angela Merkel.

The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911 as a way to attract attention to the cause of gender equality. In the nearly 100 years since the day’s inception, the women’s rights movement has made significant inroads.

In 1919 at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, the groundwork for the first International Women’s Day was established. The annual conference, which was attended by more than 100 women from 17 countries representing unions, socialist parties and working women’s clubs, agreed to the plans drafted by Clara Zetkin to set aside the same day every year in every country to draw attention to the women’s rights movement. Zetkin, the head of the “Women’s Office” of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, argued that a special day was necessary to unite the efforts of women around the world in pursuing their equal rights.

March 19, 1911: first International Women’s Day. The 19th of March was originally selected to coincide with the anniversary of Germany’s 1848 revolution, when the Prussian king was forced to recognize the rights of the general population, including the introduction of voting rights for women — a promise he failed to keep. In 1913 the date was moved forward to March 8.

1975: During International Women’s Year, March 8 was officially recognized by the United Nations as International Women’s Day. The day is marked by a public holiday in China, Vietnam, Russia and several post-Soviet states.

Voting rights

1869: British MP John Stuart Mill is the first person in Parliament to call for women’s rights to vote.

1893: New Zealand, at the time a British territory, grants women the right to vote.

1902: The newly established Commonwealth of Australia, which had just obtained independence from Britain a year earlier, becomes the first sovereign state to introduce voting rights for women.

1906: Finland is the first European country to allow women to vote. Russian women achieve this right in 1917; German women in 1919.

1920: The US passes the 19th Amendment giving women complete voting rights on the federal level.

1928: The United Kingdom grants women the right to vote. In 1934, Turkey introduces women’s voting rights. In 1944, with the help of the Allies, France is liberated from Nazi Germany and introduces voting rights for women. India passes its first constitution and allows women to vote. Afghanistan introduces voting for women in 1963, but the right is taken away under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.

1971: Switzerland becomes one of the last countries in Europe to grant general voting rights for women. In 1984 the Duchy of Lichtenstein follows suit.

2005: Kuwait allows women to vote for the first time in general elections. Saudi Arabia and Brunei do not allow women to vote.

Political office

1966: The feminist organization NOW (National Organization for Women) is founded in the US by activist and feminist author Betty Friedan. It quickly leads to the establishment of political activist groups throughout Europe and the Western world.

1966: Indira Gandhi becomes India’s first woman prime minister. Twelve years later, Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto becomes the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.

1979: Britain’s Margaret Thatcher is elected as the western world’s first woman prime minister.

2005: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf becomes Africa’s first elected woman head of state.

2005: Angela Merkel is elected German chancellor. She is the first woman to hold this position and has been ranked by Forbes magazine as the most powerful woman in the world for the last four years. She was reelected in 2009.

2008: Hillary Clinton launches campaign for the US presidency. Had she been elected she would have been the first woman president.

Related: Kenya mark international Women’s day 2010

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FGM in Kenya: Hiding From the Cruellest Cut

Posted on 20 December 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action |

Photo: Justo Casal
Girls such as these are at great risk of FGM in several districts in the country

NAIROBI, 17 December 2008 (IRIN) – Hundreds of girls between seven and 17 are seeking refuge in church compounds in western Kenya to avoid the ritual removal of their clitorises, a practice that remains common despite its illegality.

“Local authorities must ensure that these girls are not ostracised by the community and that their education is not disrupted,” Andrew Timpson, a senior protection officer for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Kenya, told IRIN on 16 December.

Timpson made a field visit to Kuria East and Kuria West districts in early December to examine the condition and protection needs of 342 girls who had fled their homes to avoid undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

He said FGM/C was a major problem and that the girls who sought refuge at two churches were a small group. “It is possible that several hundred girls aged 15 to 16 may have been circumcised.”

The girls left their homes in late November and sought sanctuary in two Swedish Maranatha Pentacostal mission stations – Gwikonge in Kuria West and Komotobo in Kuria East.

Timpson said the girls were predominantly from Masaba, Mabera and Kehancha divisions.

“The majority of the girls were brought to the missions by their parents who resisted concerted pressure brought by their communities, elders and grandparents to have their daughters circumcised,” Timpson said. “However, there were at least 50 girls who were forced out of their homes or who had fled to avoid forced circumcisions.”

Although substantial work has been done to sensitise girls and the community at large to the dangers of FGM, Timpson said, more needed to be done to ensure that those who encourage the practice face the law as it is contrary to Section 14 of the Children’s Act.

Photo: IRIN
Anti-FGM activists: Hundreds of girls between seven and 17 have sought refuge in church compounds in Kuria to avoid the ritual

Safety concerns

Ahmed Hussein, the director of children’s services under the Ministry of Gender, said the government and its partners had provided food to last the girls two weeks.

“The district advisory council is doing everything to ensure the girls are safe and consultations are ongoing to make sure that they can resume learning when schools open,” Hussein said. “We will take the necessary measures to ensure their safe return home and to ensure their learning continues.”

Timpson said the District Officers should ensure the girls are not beaten or circumcised when they return home “and the law should be used to deal with errant fathers and community leaders”.

Relief aid for the girls has been provided by the government and agencies such as World Vision, the Maranatha Church and their Swedish partners. Other involved in efforts promoting the abandonment of FGM/C in the Kuria district include Action Aid, ADRA and GTZ/MOH and World Vision.

According to a UNICEF-commissioned study, the practice is still prevalent in most of Kenya.

“Available evidence shows that female circumcision is still common, particularly in rural areas and among women who have received less education,” according to the study, undertaken for UNICEF by Anne Khasakhala of the University of Nairobi’s Population Studies and Research Institute.

One of the main reasons is the celebration and feasting that accompanies the ceremony and the bride wealth brought during the marriage negotiations, Khasakhala said.

FGM prevalence rates in the two Kuria districts range between 75 and 90 percent, according to the study, with the age at circumcision between 12 and 14.

“It appears that the community is still hiding under history, tradition and cultures that state that the girl is likely to become pregnant if she is not circumcised and that will bring shame to the family,” the study indicated, with stigmatisation of girls who do not undergo FGM/C.

The study recommended that parents and the community be educated so that girls who are not cut are not discriminated against.

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Nomadic Schools for Garissa Mobile Girls

Posted on 2 November 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Education, MDGs |

Five years after the introduction of free primary education (FPE) in Kenya, the enrolment of girls in schools continues to lag behind in Garissa, in Kenya’s North Eastern region. Most communities living in the North Eastern region are nomadic and semi-nomadic, and depend on livestock for their livelihood. “The nomadic life favours only boys to be in school. Parents force boys to go to school, and the girls are required to look after the animals. They (parents) leave the boys under the care of relatives who ensure they go to school, while girls move around with their parents from place to place in search of pasture for their livestock,” Nur Ibrahim Abdi, the Deputy District Education Officer of Garissa told IPS.

Eleven year-old Nadia Yusuf is one such girl, who has dropped out of school permanently to care for the family’s herd of 100 goats, while her three brothers go to school. “My parents and I move from one water point to the next to feed our animals. If we find a water point dry, we look for the next and we lodge there for days as our goats drink and feed,” she told IPS from the outskirts of the semi-desert Garissa town.

Most communities living in the North Eastern region are nomadic and semi-nomadic, and depend on livestock for their livelihood. That girls’ education here is sacrificed for the sake of livestock is a matter that has come to be of great concern lately.
According to statistics from the Garissa District Education Office, the enrolment rate of girls is just half that for boys. In 2003 when FPE was introduced, the total number of boys enrolled in primary schools was 11,397, compared to 5,539 girls.
Successive years have seen enrolment of boys continue to tower over that of girls. In 2006, the enrolment of boys stood at 13,214, while that of girls was 7,120. A similar scenario was evidenced last year when 14,867 boys enrolled in schools, compared to just 8,071 girls.

“This is serious. We cannot afford to continue losing any girl from school in North Eastern at a time like now when there are all efforts to attain universal education,” Abdi said. He was referring to the second Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which expects countries to achieve universal primary education by 2015. Certain initiatives are under way however, to improve enrolment of girls in Kenya’s North Eastern region. These include the establishment of mobile schools to cater for nomadic children. The schools, according to Abdi, have been established at water-points where families gather for purposes of getting water and pasture for their animals. The timetable of the schools is flexible in that the schools move with the families.

But there are only five such facilities in the vast Garissa district, with an area of 33,620 square kilometres. The ministry of education says 10 more facilities have been approved by the Garissa District Education Board, and will soon be set up.
“This will ensure that children, girls in particular, access education wherever they are, even as they graze their animals,” observed Salat Muhammed Adan, the area assistant chief.

It is emerging that it is not only the nomadic lifestyle of the community that has kept girls out of school, but also early marriages, which are widely practiced in the area. “This problem is more rampant in the reserves and some certain parts within the town. Parents pull their girls from school and marry them off to old men in exchange for cattle and goats. Some girls are as young as 10 years old,” Adan told IPS. He receives at least ten such cases a month, and has been using the Children’s Act to arrest parents who marry off their young girls, as well as the ‘husband’.

The Act, established in 2001 outlaws marriage before the age of 18. For example, last August, when schools were closed, Adan arrested parents of a 15 year-old girl who had been married off to a 39 year-old man. “I found the couple sleeping and when they least expected, I moved in to arrest the man. I went for the girl’s parents too. The girl is now in school.” In determining punishment for child marriages, courts have typically charged both a girl’s parents and her husband, either sentencing them to community service or a fine.

Early marriage is a long-established practice in the region, and the law is fighting a difficult battle against an accepted cultural practice. According to assistant chief Adan, the arrests have deterred many parents from marrying off their girls. “There is tangible evidence to this. Initially, majority of families used to do this a lot and in the open. But now because of the arrests the practice has reduced and it is done in secrecy,” he noted.

The problem has prompted local community-based organisations to team up with the authorities to monitor any violations of the Children’s Act in regard to early marriages. “This is a problem that has to be addressed seriously. We are involving the community and informing them of the importance of education to girls. The communities have started a door to door campaign to spread this message,” noted Fariah Said, chairperson of the Assalam Muslim Women Forum. Other activities seeking to promote girl child education include the Desert Run, a yearly event whereby athletes run in the desert North Eastern region. The purpose of this activity is to among other things raise awareness on girl child education and raise funds to support education for girls in that area. This year’s event took place earlier this month in Garissa, with the poor enrolment rate for girls in schools here being the focus.

“Clearly we need to move fast to ensure as many girls as boys are in school as the clock ticks closer to the deadline set for MDGs,” Florence Machio, coordinator of Women Empowerment Link, organisers of the event said. The world is slightly past the halfway mark of 2015 deadline of the MDGs. Eight MDGs including providing universal primary education were agreed on in 2000 at a United Nations summit held in New York.

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A Snapshot of the Situation of Women’s Rights in Kenya

Posted on 8 September 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, MDGs |

Women’s organizing in Kenya has been going on for decades, since long before the country’s independence from colonial rule. The oldest women’s organization, the Maendeleo ya Wanawake[2] Organization (MYWO) was started in 1952. Although it was started by a group of white settler women, the organization has the widest grassroots penetration in the country, with over three million members at present. For a long time, MYWO’s main focus was economic. It aimed to build women’s capacity to generate income and manage their households as a means of alleviating poverty.[3]

This approach, whether or not influenced by MYWO remains pervasive and is reflected in the numerous small scale women’s savings and credit groups and investment clubs or, as they are commonly called, ‘merry-go-rounds.’ These groups pool members’ contributions to provide credit to their own members or make investments. The potential for using these groups as catalysts for women’s rights activism has not been fully explored.

The Third UN Conference on Women was held in Nairobi in 1985. This marked the beginning of rights centred activism. A number of women’s organizations were born, right after the conference including the Federation of Women Lawyers, Kenya (FIDA) which gained prominence for its women’s rights advocacy. Today, there are numerous women’s rights NGOs, many of which have aspects of the welfarist approach.

Women in leadership

One way in which gender inequality is reflected in Kenya is in the dearth of women in national governance structures. The current Parliament has fifteen elected and six nominated women members out of a total of 222 members. However, even though fifteen elected women MPs may not seem like much, it does represent an increase from the ten of the former Parliament.

Interestingly, in the 2007 general elections, 269 women contested for parliamentary seats as compared to 44 aspirants in 2002.[4] This, by any means, is a phenomenal increase.[5] Since the advent of multiparty politics in the country in 1992, there have been concerted efforts, driven by women’s rights NGOs to get women into parliament and local government. The increase in the number of women offering their leadership to the electorate is likely to have been influenced by these NGOs. Indeed, many women members of Parliament have at one point or another been active in the women’s movement as members, employees or board members of women’s rights organizations.

Apart from cultural attitudes that obstruct women from vying for political leadership, and people from voting from them, there are several factors that have prevented women from making their numeric presence felt. The pre-election period was characterized by violence generally, but disproportionately against women candidates.[6] Political campaigns also cost a lot of money, and many women are not able to raise the money needed to conduct a campaign.[7] Women are also underrepresented in the executive and judiciary. Although in the lower courts, women are relatively better represented at between 38 and 44 per cent of magistrates, in the higher courts, the percentage falls to 20 per cent. In the highest court, there is only one woman judge out of a total of fourteen.[8]

Legislation on women’s rights

The constitution bars discrimination on the basis of gender. Generally, however, it has generally been difficult to get women’s rights oriented legislation passed by the male dominated Kenyan Parliament. Their patriarchal attitudes were reflected during the battle to have a Sexual Offences Act passed.[9] A number of other pieces of proposed legislation introduced to Parliament have failed to go through including an Affirmative Action Bill and a Domestic Violence Bill. A draft of a new constitution that would have, among other things, enhanced women’s rights to own land was defeated at a national referendum in 2005. Although this was not the main reason why the draft was rejected, opposition to women’s land ownership did contribute to the sentiment against it. Organizations within the women’s movement have been behind most of the attempts at legislative reform.

Kenya has signed onto the Convention against all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and a number of other international conventions as well as the Millennium Development Goals, but becoming a party to an international treaty does not automatically mean incorporation of its norms into national legislation or policy. In many ways, Kenya has made progress – however slow – on women’s rights. As However, the formidable combination of patriarchy and poverty continue to relegate women to second status.

[1] Institute for Economic Affairs (2008) Profile of Women’s Socio-Economic Status
in Kenya. Nairobi
[2] Swahili for ‘women’s development.’
[3] Kiragu, Jane ‘Is there a Women’s Movement?’ in Muteshi, Jacinta (2006)
Mapping Best Practices: Promoting Gender Equality and the advancement of
Kenyan women. Nairobi, Heinrich Boll Foundation.
[4] Note 1, p. 36.
[5] The overall number of parliamentary candidates rose from 1015 in 2002 to 2548
in 2007.
[6] See ‘Kenya’s elections: how did women fare?’ an interview with Wangari Kinoti.
[7] Note 1, p. 37.
[8] Ibid.
[9] See ‘Legislating against sexual violence: the Kenyan experience.’ An interview
with Njoki Ndung’u.

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New Report Identifies Gender Inequality as a Barrier to Kenya’s Development

Posted on 12 August 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Development |

New Institute of Economic Affairs report identifies gender inequality as a barrier to Kenya’s development

The Institute of Economic Affairs’ (IEA) latest report on the socio-economic status of women in Kenya says women have made minimal strides in their quest to bridge the inequality gap. However, this state of affairs is not blamed solely on women but on the prevailing political system. The report titled Profile of Women’s Socio-Economic Status in Kenya shows low education levels among women in comparison to men. On primary school participation, the overall enrolment rate of boys is higher than that of their female counterparts, but North Eastern Province still lags far behind compared to the other provinces in Kenya by recording the lowest figures for girls’ enrolment in school. The figure stands at 27.6% followed by Nairobi recording a percentage of 40.1%.

Secondary school data on the other hand shows that the rate of women’s enrolment is much lower. This is based on the fact that the female students face the challenges of early marriage and some parents prefer to educate their sons over daughters. The trend continues into institutions of higher learning where again the number of female students at university level is much lower than their male counterparts and their preference is for the arts courses. The situation depicts the low progression of female students across education levels.

In the labour force, women constitute 30% of the overall wage employment. The highest percentage is recorded in the education sector (45%) while the lowest is in the building and construction industry (7%), manufacturing 18%, electricity and water 18%. More women tend to venture into the small micro enterprises (SMEs). Although women operate 54% of the total enterprises in the country where they dominate wholesale and retail businesses, rural manufacturing and urban agriculture sectors. Men are well represented in such sectors as urban manufacturing, transport, financial and social services. It is also pointed out in the report that, representation of both men and women in decision making processes is critical for effective implementation of policies that affect the general population. However a negligible proportion of women are represented in senior and middle level policy formulation and implementation processes.

In the judicial system, women are represented in the lower cadres among district and resident magistrates. Out of the 15 Appeal Judges, there is only one female among them. The report also says that the legal structures enacted face the risk of failing to materialize because of lack of budgetary allocations. Other challenges include the delay of debates before parliament and the long legislation processes. Further, the report says that the government and other stakeholders in the health sector have implemented various initiatives targeted at improving the health of women who in essence, are more vulnerable than men to infections. Interventions include constituency HIV/AIDS fund, national insurance fund, funding for malaria, TB programs and other health related expenditures.

The same report identifies the challenges of dealing with domestic violence as being more to do with attitudinal or cultural perceptions than policy. While it may be argued that the key issue related to persistence of gender violence is the rate of economic dependence of women on men, it is also worth noting that due to cultural reasons even economically independent women persevere and therefore allow the vice of domestic violence to persist. Domestic violence has locks out potential and opportunities for women who cannot develop themselves because they are afraid of their husbands’ attitude and reactions.

Enhancing gender equality is critical for any country’s development. Despite the fact that the women represent 51% of the Kenyan population, their representation in post primary education, wage employment, enterprise ownership and decision making process is limited, they are also adversely affected by such factors as traditional and social practices, poverty and domestic violence among other challenges. Improving women’s profile in all sectors and reducing gender disparities will not only benefit women but also men, children, the poor and rich as well. This will also enhance women’s empowerment and contribute to sustainable economic growth, reduce poverty and social injustices. The national budget could also be tailored to address gender issues in order to reduce gender inequalities.

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Give Women Land Rights and Make Poverty History

Posted on 12 August 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Poverty |

The recent statement by the Minister for Lands, Hon. James Orengo that the National Land Policy is ready for cabinet deliberation and final approval is something that is overdue.  But for the majority of Kenyan women who wallow in poverty and are destitute, the announcement has generated a lot of excitement as they have for a long time been culturally prohibited from inheriting this critical factor of production and source of wealth. This is because the Land Policy recognizes gender equity as a principle.

Such a provision is what women have been advocating for, for donkey years. Because with it, our society can begin to start seeing women not as bystanders and passive actors, but those who can contribute immensely to economic growth by owning and controlling how this important asset is used.  An asset that will determine whether they will remain submerged in poverty or excel in life. This was eloquently put by South African activist, Maureen Mnisi, that “the struggle for rights to land is bigger than the struggle to alleviate poverty.”  Indeed, no one group understands this better than women, who are reputed to produce at least 80 percent of Kenya’s food and with at least 90 percent of their labour being channeled towards food production and processing.

But because they do not own land, they are never beneficiaries of their sweat. Their men are instead the real winners: they walk to the bank, pick the money, and take-off for holiday with their mistresses. Indeed, the fact that it is very difficult, if not downright impossible, to put a finger on precise data on how women are affected by lack of land ownership. That is why the proposed draft on Land Policy is welcomed. Secondly, this policy is vital because it addresses the linkages between HIV/AIDS and poverty and land ownership.

I know there have been a lot of cultural barriers around women and land ownership in Kenya. This is not withstanding that a lot of discussions have taken place on issues around women and land tenure. The experience from the past, especially during the 2005 referendum proved how emotional and culturally sensitive these issues can be, and sent a message to women that the struggle will not be easy. The policy might be in law, but in practice, they will have to go an extra mile. Some of the arguments made during the referendum included: How can a woman inherit land at her birth place; at her matrimonial home; why would a married woman think of having her own piece of land when her husband has not approved it.

Since women’s rights to land is either through marriage or through a male relative, this makes them virtually invisible when it comes to benefits, services and earnings from land. They are also absent from the statistics that would make a difference in planning. Like in the rest of Africa, even where laws have been put in place allowing women to own land, customary practices at times dictates that ownership, making relatives often subvert the official policy. But I believe that, if the Land Policy becomes a reality, we should not give it narrow interpretation.

As proposed within the draft, there should be what I would call: “Land laws menu,” that will raise critical questions such as “How would you like yours done Ma’am?  It is going to be joint ownership, co-ownership; consent from both partners when one of them sells land; or the right to be present when your man buys land. If the Land Policy is in place, can we then start thinking about alternative  forms of land tenure that cater for the realities we are trying to address as a nation. But for Kenya, it should be recognized that discussions around food security, sustainable development and achieving vision 2030 does not make any sense if the question of land rights is not addressed comprehensively. They are the managers of the land; and custodians of indigenous knowledge that ensures sustainable management of our environment. They work the land, know precisely what to plant; and how their families are to be fed throughout the year.

Every time a government fails to take into account women’s knowledge and experiences in land and agriculture, we condemn the earth.  Putting women at the centre of land rights is the first step towards sustainable development and alleviating poverty and the Kenyan women will be waiting with bated breath on the outcome of the cabinet’s decision on the draft Land Policy Bill.

*The African Woman and Child Features Service (AWC) is a Nairobi-based media organisation
with an African regional outlook

AWC has been active in training journalists and other media practitioners as well as NGOs in the region in the area of gender, media and development. It has assisted in the production of training manuals for organisations, gender mainstreaming policies and content for media houses and training women on how to access and effectively use the media for development.

*The writer is the Executive Director of AWC Features

This article was also published in the Saturday Standard on July 26 2008.

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Enforcement of the Sexual Offences Act in Kenya

Posted on 12 August 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Governance |


Is the criminal justice system in Kenya well equipped to protect women from gender-based violence? This a critical question because in July this year, the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) is celebrating two years of existence having came into force on 21 July 2006. It has been lauded as an evolutionally piece of legislation that provides for the prevention and protection of all persons from harmful and unlawful sexual acts. It expanded the definition of rape to comply with jurisprudence that is evolving from the international arena and introduces new crimes that did not exist in the previous legal framework.

The Office of the Attorney General has formulated a Reference Manual [1] that expounds the Act as well as setting standards and recommendations on best practices to various key service providers. The target is not only the police investigator and prosecutor, but also medical practitioners, civil society, gender activists and general consumers of criminal justice services. If used well, the manual can become an important tool in achieving the objectives set out in the preamble of the Act as well as sensitizing communities through outreach programs.

This discussion paper is going to examine the shortcomings encountered by women who seek redress within the criminal justice sector as well as making recommendations to counter them. The right to development, to peace, and to justice cannot be overemphasized [2]. Violence against women denies women peace of mind, bodily integrity, and a sense of development, curtailing their contribution to development.


According to international practice, it is the duty of states to promote and protect human rights at the national level. In its 85th Plenary Meeting held on 20th December 1993, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. It encourages governments to take steps to ensure that women are protected from all forms of violence be it of physical, sexual psychological nature. Among specific acts of violence delineated in the declaration are sexual offences, battering, marital rape, FGM, dowry related violence etc. Kenya has a legal framework that purports to comply with the above declaration and other related instruments. Unfortunately, it has failed to go the full mile and criminalize all the offences envisioned in the Declaration.

I think it is correct to say that there appears to be subtle discriminations within our legal framework that blatantly refuses to recognize that all women, no matter marital status, are equal before the law and should therefore get equal treatment and protection. The status quo is that marital status and cultural relativism are being used to deny a certain section of the women constituency a sip from the communal calabash of justice. There is no justification for the continued failure to criminalize domestic violence and marital rape. Our sisters from the SADC countries seem to be steps ahead in this thrust and heave for the ultimate price that is equality in justice. Already, six countries; Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, and Tanzania have taken the cue from international organizations and agreements and passed legislation that criminalizes marital rape.

The truth is that rape is rape, is rape; whatever name may precede it. Pamela Mhlanga observed that, “Rape in all its forms can be a matter of life and death and causes untold trauma on survivors and in some cases social ostracizition including permanent scars, aside from destroying the essence of their life [3].”


Even for those women who have a ‘legitimate’ right not to be raped; (because their experience of rape fall under the legislative mandate) their road to legal redress is not smooth sailing. Apart from the high cost of accessing justice, ignorance and technicality of the court process, they risk falling foul to rogue police officers who may take advantage of their vulnerability to extract the ‘extra pound’ of flesh before they receive services. It is unfortunate that although section 24 of SOA prohibits law enforcement officers extracting sexual favors from people who seek their services, there is no enforcing and monitoring mechanism in place to ensure compliance.

Women who seek services at the police station have get sexually attacked; harassed or simply forced to give bribes in order to receive services. Take the case on Sarah, a woman who had complained against her estranged husband for assault. Every time the case came for hearing it got adjourned. When she made inquiries from the prosecutor, she learnt that the magistrate was waiting to be ‘seen’. The prosecutor asked for her mobile number and she began to receive very seductive messages from the trial magistrate. He wanted to have sexual relations with her and at one time told her that her case would not ‘go’ anywhere unless she complies.

Although the matter was referred to police for investigations, nothing happened. They alerted the rogue magistrate who stopped sending the offensive messages. They also claimed that they did not have the technical know-how to extract the previous messages from Sarah’s phone. In the end, the matter fizzled to oblivion after the case got transferred to another court. The trial magistrate later got disciplined by getting a transfer to a remote area, where it is feared, he may be continuing his wayward ways against defenseless, disempowered and ignorant women.

At the worst, a woman who is a victim of violence also risks being victimized under section 38 of the SOA which criminalizes the offence of making false allegations. Many police investigators and prosecutors are categorical that they would not hesitate to charge complainants in sexual offences case if the trial magistrate failed to place an accused on his defense. To them failure of a prosecution case at this stage showed that the complainant had given false allegations. The police need to be disabused from this hackneyed interpretation of section 38. They should know that a criminal prosecution can flounder for other reasons. Sometimes a crucial witness such as a doctor can fail to appear in court and exhibits can get misplaced.

Another problem facing women in Kenya in their quest for justice is lack of specialization and sensitization of police investigators and prosecutors. Police prosecutors carry out most prosecutions before subordinate courts where most sexual offences are prosecuted. State counsels who are trained lawyers handle the more serious crimes like murder and treason in High court. Many factors contribute to the high rate of acquittals in sexual offences. In a system where access to justice is based on dichotomies of whether one is rich or poor, man or woman, health or sick; with the first variable almost always getting the upper hand, women are bound to suffer. This makes nonsense the doctrine of equality and non-discrimination in justice, which is the cornerstone of international, regional and national jurisprudence.

Also heavy work loads on the part of prosecutors lead to shoddy prosecutions. In a day, a prosecutor may handle 25 cases, so he is not able to give focused attention on any particular case. Logistics deny him research facilities, which put him at a disadvantage when compared with sharp defense lawyers who have all the time and facilities to prepare for their cases. There is no opportunity for holding pre-trial interviews with witnesses or even visiting the scene of crime in preparation for the hearing. Most prosecutors’ offices are one room affairs tucked in a corner of the court premises and sometimes it is shared between two to five prosecutors. This makes it impossible to comply with the good practices recommended to services providers in cases of violence against women [4].


It is laudable that the Attorney General has appointed a multi-sectoral task force that is now in the process of developing a National Policy Framework to guide in the implementation and enforcement of the SOA. Once the policy is formulated, the Attorney General will have complied with the provisions of section 46 of the Sexual Offences Act. Unfortunately, there are many sections existing in our current legal framework, which are not yet operational for lack of regulations to make them effective. Designated officers who are mandated to formulate rules and guidance to trigger their operation have failed to do their duty.

I have in mind section 39 of SOA, which places the onus of keeping a register and a data bank of convicted sexual offenders on the registrar of the high court. Section 47 likewise gives the implementing minister power to prescribe regulations on what is to be contained in this data bank. I am not sure such regulations have been formulated so far. Perhaps they will be included in the National Policy Framework.

Another glaring example is section 329 (A) which was introduced by a 2003 amendment of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Chief Justice is required to make rules and regulations to guide the manner in which Victim Impact Statements can be received and their use by courts. Such statements are intended to guide the court in its exercise of sentencing discretion as well as assessing damages that can be ordered against convicted accused person. Attempts by prosecutors to produce such statements in spousal battering cases get rejected because courts are of the opinion that ground rules have not been legally defined.


Agitators for equality and justice among the justice system are ignorant about the law, the legal process and the court procedure. Many members of civil society do not appear to know that the office of the Attorney General can help in cases where victims feel they have been short charged by first line service providers. A good example is a recommendation appearing in COVAW report entitled; ‘In pursuit of justice’, Recommendation Number 5.3.2 advices women to seek other supportive mechanisms ‘be they social or legal from the civil society or other higher ranks within the provincial administration.’ Should they feel that the services they are getting are wanting’

How is an ignorant and non-legal person to know that a service is wanting if no parameters are defined to show them what to expect? Secondly, which specific ‘high’ rank officers should these women approach at the provincial level? Would it not have been better if the report had identified some particular officers within the provincial administration who can be approached for help? One such officer should ideally be the state counsel who ideally monitors the administration of justice within a province or even district. Gender activists need to do more in monitoring the quality of services that victims of violence receive from service providers. My experience with most civil societies is that they come into the scene when it is too late. Even when they do, they concentrate on raising their public profile through postulating to the media and international press at the expense of seeking real justice for the victim.

Many do not take the trouble to observe and monitor the case through the various criminal justice stages. Perhaps it due to lack of knowledge about procedure and processes applied in court of law or even lack of sufficient funding that is the culprit here. Where a gender activist in not well versed in legal procedures, it would be advisable to get a trained lawyer or even a paralegal who can ‘watch legal brief’ during the day to day hearing of the case in order to protect the interests of the victim. This effort would force the magistrate and prosecutor to be on best professional behavior because they are ‘aware’ that they are being watched. It minimizes opportunities for mischief, which would favor the accused defendant.

There is more to case monitoring than just appearing from the blues after an accused has been acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence and threatening magistrates to hold demonstrations to protest release of dangerous criminals. Apart from this, gender activists need to familiarize themselves with post trial process. They should know the ground rules for appeals and the role of Attorney General in criminal appeals. Appeal is a creature of statute and the A-G can only appeal on grounds of law not facts.


It is evident that the office of the Attorney General has taken the initiative to initiate a national policy framework that will aid justice consumers access justice. Until the task force completes it work, it is not possible to know what practice tools will be developed. Apart from making the policy framework, it is recommended that a gender unit be established in the department of public prosecution. Its work should be to monitor how cases that are brought under the Act are dealt with through the various stages of our criminal justice system.

One of the greatest bottlenecks facing research in Kenya is lack of information on court cases. There is no established mechanisms for addressing existing bottlenecks because there is not data to go by.

Other suggestions are as follows.

– To win the war against violence against women, we must first have a paradigm
shift in our service delivery system.
– We must make our services consumer friendly and sensitive.
– Gender focal points manned by specialized officers should be available in all
police stations.
– Gender mainstreaming within the police department should be taken seriously,
so that more women get appointed as prosecutors and officers commanding
stations (OCS).
– Model One-stop centers ought to be introduced at select police stations,
preferably in every province.
– Community outreach programs during chiefs barazas so that women and
communities at large can be sensitized about VAW.
– Human rights training for women’s groups and service providers should be given.
– Training of paralegals within society and encouraging volunteering by key
community leaders can effectively protect women
– Monitoring of out come of criminal cases in court should be done as a matter of
routine by the A-G.
– Simple guidance manuals that can aid consumers of justice in understanding
court process so that they can adequately represent their interests.
– Which brings me to my final recommendation: we must have an oversight body
to police the police and other service providers in order to stop the impunity with
which violence against women is treated.

*Ann Nyambura Kithaka is a Judicial System Monitor in the Legal and Judicial
System Support Division (LJSSD), United Nations Mission Mission in Liberia

* Please send comments to: or
comment online at:


1. The Reference Manual on the Sexual Offences Act, 2006 for Prosecutors which
a product of joint collaboration between the Office of the Attorney General, in
particular the Department of Public Prosecutions and Women in Law and
Development in Africa (WILDAF).
2. Koffi Annan; in Larger Freedom 2005 available at
3. An article entitled ‘South Africa: Justice for survivors of marital rape, how far
has SADC come?’ by Pamela Mhlanga – reported in and 16
days of activism against gender violence
4. 2005/doc/finaldoc/goodpractices.pdf

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PMTCT Services not Reaching Rural Women in Kenya

Posted on 26 July 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Public Health |

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Many of the women are unaware of their status

ISIOLO, 24 July 2008 (PlusNews) – The government’s campaign to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child is failing pregnant HIV-positive women in Kenya’s remote rural areas.

A shortage of testing sites and trained medical staff in rural areas means many of these women are unaware of their status and that their babies are at risk of contracting the virus.

“You have been blessed with a baby; as part of the Government’s free child health care, take your child for HIV testing six weeks after birth,” reads a poster at the Isiolo district hospital in Kenya’s Eastern Province. “If found positive, your child will receive free care and treatment. Children are a blessing – nurture their health.”

These public service messages, strategically placed in government hospitals, are meant to encourage women to use prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) services. But the messages and the services they advertise are only useful to women who live close to district hospitals.

“Women attending antenatal care services are never tested for HIV in remote areas of Samburu district [in the northwest]. The services are only available at the district and some few divisional health centres … many children are contracting the virus from their parents,” Margaret Leshore of the local NGO, the Samburu East Women’s Empowerment Programme, told IRIN/PlusNews.

“We know that HIV transmission to the unborn can be prevented; transmission while breastfeeding can also be avoided, but we are lacking all these services,” she added.

Heavily pregnant Julie Leresh, the mother of four young children, attends the antenatal clinic at Samburu’s Lerata dispensary but does not know her HIV status and does not perceive herself or her children to be at risk of infection.

More information and awareness needed

“I have no reason to be tested for HIV. I have heard a lot about it … I don’t stay in town – it affects those who reside in town and it is all because of what they eat and their behaviour,” she told IRIN/PlusNews.

Many rural women in the area have views similar to those of Leresh, and health workers have pointed out that unless information about the pandemic is brought to grassroots communities, HIV will continue to spread unchecked. In Samburu, where ignorance about HIV is widespread, prevalence is 6.1 percent, compared to the national average of about 5 percent.

''I have no reason to be tested for HIV. I have heard a lot about it … I don’t stay in town it affects those who reside in town and it is all because of what they eat and their behaviour''

In areas where services are present, health workers say they should be culturally sensitive if they are to have the intended impact. “Women who are strict Muslims can never allow to be attended by a man,” said Ali Boru of the NGO, Isiolo Youth against AIDS and Poverty.

“Also, some of the locals are reluctant to be tested by local health personnel, because some cases of those who were found to be HIV positive are said to have been leaked to the community – it is the worst fear for many.”

Boru said the problem was compounded by a severe shortage of qualified medical personnel and counsellors in the region.

The Kenya Red Cross and the government recently drew up a five-year plan to combat the spread of HIV by equipping existing health centres in rural areas with voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services and using mobile VCT centres.

Dr Robert Ayisi, PMTCT coordinator at the National AIDS and STI (sexually transmitted infections) Control Programme, acknowledged that women in rural areas were worse off.

“We are working hard with our partners in remote areas to ensure that all women, be they rural or urban, have access to PMTCT services,” he told IRIN/PlusNews.

According to the government, an estimated 19,000 babies contracted HIV during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding in 2006.

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International Women’s Day: UNHCR Launches Handbook for Protection of Women

Posted on 6 March 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Governance, Refugees/ IDPs |

GENEVA, March 6 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency on Thursday launched an important guide for the protection of females as the organization’s leader, António Guterres, reaffirmed UNHCR’s commitment to the rights of women.

Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller and Netherlands Ambassador Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam, Chairman of UNHCR’s governing Executive Committee, presided over the launch of the “Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls” in Geneva’s Palais des Nations.

The launch of this important protection tool – which replaces UNHCR’s 1991 “Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women” – is directly linked to International Women’s Day on Saturday.

The handbook denounces “a massive culture of neglect and denial about violence against women and girls” and outlines strategies to answer the protection challenges faced by women and girls of concern. It also sets out international legal standards and responsibilities in this area.

Feller said the document was designed to promote gender equality by using a rights- and community-based approach, by mainstreaming age, gender and diversity, and through targeted actions to empower women and girls in the civil, political and economic sectors.

The Assistant High Commissioner also highlighted the practical suggestions for concrete actions contained in the handbook, mentioning “a total of over 60 field practice examples which show how offices [around the world] have approached these challenges.”

High Commissioner Guterres, in a special International Women’s Day message to staff released on Thursday, highlighted the importance of raising awareness on gender-based issues and described the handbook as “an important new tool” that “describes the protection challenges faced by refugee women and ways of resolving them.”

Noting this year’s theme of “Investing in Women and Girls,” Guterres said the refugee agency would be directing US$1.5 million in 2008 to special projects aimed at countering and raising awareness about sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in 14 countries.

One of those countries is Uganda, where the High Commissioner has been reviewing UNHCR operations, meeting officials and talking to refugees and internally displaced people since Monday. He leaves later Thursday for a four day-visit to Tanzania.

Guterres, in his staff message, noted that UNHCR had last year “channelled special funds to projects in a first group of 14 countries – Tanzania, Syria and Jordan among them – as part of our contribution to the global fight against SGBV and to help find solutions for the tens of thousands of displaced women and children affected by abuse.”

The High Commissioner also urged all UNHCR staff to take part in the various activities being organized worldwide in the coming days to celebrate International Women’s Day. He stressed that “more than ever, UNHCR should be doing everything possible to support women and girls of concern and to invest in their protection and welfare.”

By Cécile Pouilly in Geneva

More . . .


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African First Ladies Fight For Peace

Posted on 21 February 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Governance, Humanitarian, Insecurity, Politics, Refugees/ IDPs |

Photo: Laudes Martial MBON/IRIN
Africa’s first ladies pose for a group photo in Brazzaville after setting up a network of peace negotiators

BRAZZAVILLE, 18 February 2008 (IRIN) – In a bid to support initiatives to restore and strengthen peace on the unrest-prone continent, wives of African heads of state or their representatives have formed a conflict-resolution group.

The African Network of Women Peace Negotiators was created on 15 February in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville, at the sixth conference of the African First Ladies Peace Mission, known by its French acronym MIPREDA, which was launched in 1997 in Nigeria to advocate for peace, stability and harmony in Africa.

“Brazzaville will be the starting point of action of women for peace on the continent,” said the first lady of Chad, Hinda Déby Itno. The Chadian capital, N’djamena, came under heavy attack in early February by rebels bent on toppling the government of President Idriss Déby.

“Unlike men, who are the first to set them off, we have the opportunity and means to extinguish all these hotbeds of tension and crisis in our country,” she added.

The first ladies painted a grim picture of Africa and condemned the violence meted out to women and girls during conflicts, particularly in the Darfur region of Sudan, Somalia, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and recently in Kenya and Chad.

“At the dawn of the third millennium, it is shocking to see that Africa remains the seat of most evils afflicting humanity. Foremost among these evils is the blind violence and impunity,” said Antoine Sassou Nguesso, wife of Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message delivered to the first ladies by the UN Development Programme’s Resident representative in Congo, Aurélien Agbenonci, said 65 percent of the UN’s budget for maintaining peace went on Africa.

“Africa is one of the forgotten conflicts, the bloodiest the world has ever known since the Second World War,” said Gisèle Mandaila, Belgium’s secretary of state for family. “The figures speak for themselves; civilians, mostly women, pay a heavy price for these conflicts.”

Turai Yar’Adua, wife of Nigeria’s President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was elected to head the organisation.

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KENYA: Women Stood Up to Be Elected

Posted on 24 January 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Governance |

NAIROBI, Jan 24 (IPS) – Women boldly stood up to be elected during December’s general elections. They turned out in their highest number ever — 269 — to contest Kenya’s 210 parliamentary seats. This record number ignited so much hope, especially among women, that some estimated that at least 50 could make it to parliament. Out of 2,548 parliamentary contenders 10.6 percent were women.

During the 2002 elections there were only 44 women out of a total 1,015 vying for parliamentary seats. Nine of them were elected while various parties nominated nine more to make the total number of women in the last parliament 18.

Generally, the performance of women during the parliamentary elections this time around was slightly higher than the last elections, 15 being elected. However, taking into account the number of women candidates last year as compared to 2002, women did not perform as well as expected.

Last year 5.6 percent of the candidates made it to parliament, 20.4 percent succeeded in 2002.

The good news is that the number of elected women parliamentarians has increased from 4.2 per cent in the last parliament to 7.1 per cent now. After elections of parliamentary seats, parties share 12 nomination slots.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) — with the largest number of members of parliament (MPs) — nominates six, and the list of nominees the party has submitted to the Electoral Commission of Kenya has three women on it. If the other parties also nominate at least three women in the six remaining slots, then the number of women in parliament could reach 21. Despite the increase in the number of women contenders, there were those that did not pin much hope on their performance.

In an interview with IPS prior to the Dec. 27 elections, Rosemary Okello- Orlale, executive director of the African Woman and Child Feature Service, said most of the women candidates were in periphery parties which were unknown to voters. This could affect their performance as the party one stands on contributes to one’s chance of winning, she explained. “I am not seeing a need to celebrate the high number of women contenders, because the performance is likely to be as low as it was in 2002,” Okello- Orlale predicted.

An Aug. 2007 poll conducted by the Centre for Multiparty Democracy, a non- governmental organisation in Nairobi, indicated that 78 percent of voters are influenced by party affiliations or manifestoes. This study and Okello’s assertion were proved when most of the women who stood on either the ODM or Party of National Unity (PNU) — the incumbent’s party — tickets sailed through the elections in areas where their respective parties were popular. Of ODM’s 99 MPs, six are women out of the seven who contested on the party’s ticket and PNU has four women out of its 44 MPs elected. Four women MPs made it to parliament through small parties but among them were two former ministers.

Former Minister for Health, Charity Ngilu swam against the tide and won her seat for the fourth time. She stood on the former ruling party’s National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) ticket. NARC, which she chairs, has only three MPs in parliament including her.

Presidential candidate, Kalonzo Musyoka of Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya (ODM-K), finished a distant third in the discredited presidential elections and has since formed a coalition with Kibaki and PNU. He has been appointed vice president. Since Kibaki was announced winner of the controversial presidential elections, this east African country has been suffering countrywide protests against his re-election. Currently international mediators — led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan — are here to help solve the crisis.

Former Minister for Immigration Jebii Kilimo also won with the KENDA party in an area whose electorate largely supported ODM. Women candidates had to deal with issues ranging from culture and a predominantly patriarchal society to lack of resources and voters who usually vote for the person most generous with handouts. “I ask my potential voters to look at the bigger picture, what lies ahead for them once I am their MP. But as soon as my opponents pour money to them, my promise of visionary leadership is forgotten,” Pamela Mburia, a parliamentary contestant on one of the smaller party tickets told IPS just before the elections. Her bid to capture a seat failed.

Some women soldiered on to overcome the predominant belief that women have no place in politics. One such woman is the new MP for Eldoret South in western Kenya, Peris Chepchumba, who trounced 11 men to clinch the ODM ticket during the party primaries. She went ahead to win because the party was popular on the ground. In an interview with one of the local dailies, Chepchumba described her experience during the nominations as most gruelling. “My rivals were fighting me just because of my gender. They openly said that it was better for them to lose to a man than to a woman,” she told the newspaper.

The performance of these 15 women elected to parliament may pave the way for more women to be elected in future. “I’d vote a woman for MP again and again,” Charles Muli who comes from Hon Ngilu’s constituency told IPS in Nairobi. “The woman will use money allocated for the constituency’s development in an open and transparent way. My home area is more advanced than neighbouring constituencies because my MP is a woman,” Muli said.

During the campaigns in last year’s elections, some of the women candidates from Ngilu’s neighbourhood used her example of development in her constituency to drum up support for themselves. “Since independence, my area has had male MPs but they have lagged behind in development. I told my voters to choose me to realise growth just like other women MPs such as Ngilu have brought to their constituencies, but they ignored my appeal,” a woman who did not win the seat she contested told IPS in Nairobi. (END/2008)

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MEDIA-KENYA: For a Woman Candidate, It’s Good To Be a Man

Posted on 10 December 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Politics |


Zipporah Musau of ‘The Standard’, working towards fair coverage for women candidates.

NAIROBI,  (IPS) – As with political candidates everywhere, women running in this month’s general elections in Kenya are doubtless keeping a close eye on the media to see how they are being portrayed by news outlets. Then again, these women may simply be concerned about whether they are portrayed at all.

Reporting trends in the previous polls, held in December 2002, suggest aspirants have cause for concern in this regard.

In a 2004 master’s degree study dealing with print coverage of women candidates during the last campaign, ‘Gender Portrayal in the Mass Media’, researcher Lucy Cheluget-Cherogony writes that women aspirants “were ignored more and more as elections approached” by the two main newspapers in the country — the ‘Daily Nation’ and ‘The Standard’.

Articles about women candidates also tended to be confined to the inner pages of the newspapers, which feature family and general social issues, she notes.

A 2004 report by the African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWC Features), ‘A Journey of Courage: Kenyan Women’s Experiences of the 2002 General Elections’, made similar findings: “…between October and December 2002, only three news articles putting women in the context of the election appeared in the national newspapers.”

“And because journalists are supposed to seek for ‘senior’ sources and because women occupy fewer powerful and elite positions than men do, women featured less prominently than men in the media coverage of the elections.”

A total of 1,015 candidates ran for parliament in 2002, 44 of them women (about four percent of the total, although women make up 52 percent of the Kenyan population). None of the five presidential candidates was a woman. For the Dec. 27 vote, 269 of the 2,548 legislative candidates are women (approximately 10.6 percent of the total) — and one of the nine presidential candidates.

If the quantity of coverage given to women was a problem, then so was the quality. Cheluget-Cherogony notes that reporting tended to disregard “the most pertinent issue of women candidates’ leadership capabilities”. Instead, it focused on their “feminine qualities”.

Martin Munguti of the Media Council of Kenya, an independent body, believes inadequate coverage of female politicians is partly a reflection of their own failure to seek the limelight.

“In a way I blame women for not going for the attention. If they sought media attention they would get it because the code of conduct gives them the chance,” he told IPS, in reference to a media code of conduct drawn up in conjunction with news organisations. The code requires the media to give women fair treatment; a recently enacted media bill also holds out the promise of better coverage of women.

Notes media lecturer and researcher Kamau Mubuu of the University of Nairobi, “Men look for coverage. They are even ready to pay for it if that is what it takes.”

“But women will wait for journalists to look for them. This makes it harder for the women candidates to find their way to the media,” he said in an interview with IPS.

The male-dominated nature of Kenyan society also leads journalists to “…believe that men make news and not women. So they are not keen in looking for women politicians unless the women stand out,” observed Mabuu.

But do efforts to engage the media necessarily work? The AWC Features report suggests otherwise.

“AMWIK (the Association of Media Women in Kenya) held meetings with editors of the various media houses (concerning the last election) to lobby them to give women aspirants space. Although the editors promised to do this, no deliberate effort was made towards this by any of the media organisations,” the study recounts.

The picture is not uniformly bleak, however.

‘The Standard’ is devoting two pages every Wednesday in its weekly ‘Election Platform’ pullout to coverage of women aspirants in this month’s ballot, who will also be given an equal shot at coverage elsewhere in the paper, Deputy Managing Editor Zipporah Musau told IPS.

While training journalists at the Nation Media Group in election coverage, columnist and senior editor Macharia Gaitho advised reporters to focus on the issues espoused by women candidates when covering their campaigns — rather than succumbing to stereotypes about female aspirants.

But as concerns the publicly-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation — the broadcasting service that reaches the majority of Kenyans — there appears to be no specific initiative to ensure fair reporting about women candidates in the current campaign. “We just run women stories as they come,” Josephine Karani, a television producer at the station, told IPS.

Women politicians themselves can also help reshape views of gender in the media, as this journalist can attest.

When profiling Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua in 2003 after she was appointed to cabinet, I asked her a question about her family at the end of the interview. “Do you put the same question to men?” she replied, adding “If you don’t ask them, then don’t ask me.”

As it happened, I had put the same question to male politicians — but Karua’s point was, in a sense, well made.

The minister’s approach has earned her what may — in an ironic twist — still be the ultimate compliment for a woman politician in Kenya: being described as a man (albeit with tongue in cheek).

‘Daily Nation’ columnist Clay Muganda once described Karua as being “the only man in Kibaki’s Cabinet” because of her willingness to stand up for President Mwai Kibaki. (Karua is the sole woman in the 32-member cabinet; of the 222 posts in the last parliament, recently dissolved, 18 were held by women.)

“It is a stereotype, I know,” Muganda commented to IPS, laughing, and saying he considered himself fortunate that Karua had not called him or written to complain of the statement. “I had braced myself for her protest, but I was relieved when I heard nothing. I assume she took it as — well — a compliment.”

“It is an expression to recognise women who are really tough. Even Indira Gandhi used to be described like that, just to appreciate her astuteness. You see it is men who are associated with such qualities. What better way to describe a woman with similar qualities?” (END/2007)

By Kwamboka Oyaro

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Joining The Fight Against Gender-Based Violence in Africa

Posted on 29 November 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action |

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Fartun Abdi Ahmed

(IRIN) – The small compensation Fartun Abdi Ahmed, 25, takes from having her genitalia ritually excised with a knife used on six other girls is that the procedure took place in a rural part of Somalia, where the risk of infection, from HIV, for example, was relatively low.

“One cannot imagine the pain, the fear and the stress I went through; thank God it was a rural area and so we did not get some of the infections that are common nowadays,” Ahmed, a refugee, said on 23 November at the launch of a 16-day campaign against gender violence in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “FGM [female genital mutilation/cutting] is the number-one form of gender-based violence for women in Somalia.”

Ahmed, now a Nairobi-based community outreach worker and Somali translator with GTZ, the German aid agency, was addressing a press conference called by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to mark 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Detailing the FGM/C phases that an estimated 90 percent of Somali women experience as teenagers, Ahmed said depending on the type of excision made – cutting the tip of the clitoris or removal of the clitoris as well as the minor and major labia – women end up suffering complications during their menstrual period, during marriage and at childbirth.

“As the stitching done during FGM leaves only a small opening, this often results in complications that can lead to infections during the menstrual period and at times a woman has to undergo surgery upon marriage to re-open the [vagina],” she said. “Even during childbirth, surgery must be performed and this can lead to the baby’s or woman’s death where surgery is not easily available.”

The consequences of FGM/C include stress, fear, extreme shock, heavy bleeding and sometimes death, Ahmed said. Community elders and religious leaders had to be identified and trained about the dangers of FGM/C as they had the greatest influence on the community, she added.

“If these elders are not trained, the practice will continue with its devastating effects; we should also develop women’s support groups, comprising survivors of FGM and other gender-based violence to help each other,” Ahmed said. “The creation of special centres where women can confidentially seek counselling and medical treatment as well as compassionate care is also very important.”

Eddie Gedalof, the acting representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said boys and men had to be involved in efforts to end rape, assault, domestic violence, FGM/C and other abuses against girls and women.

“Boys and men are often the main problem in the fight against gender-based violence but they are also part of the solution; they must be engaged at the grassroots level in order to come up with community-based solutions,” he said.

He added that UNHCR was committed to joint efforts to end gender-based violence (GBV) as it had witnessed the “despair, horrors, terrible sadness and loss of community structures for protection” caused by violence against women.

Besida Tonwe, the head of OCHA’s regional support office in Nairobi, said the 2007 theme of the 16-day campaign against gender violence is Demanding Implementation, Challenging Obstacles: End Violence Against Women.

The campaign ends on 10 December, International Human Rights Day, reinforcing the message that violence against women and girls, “from rape as a weapon of warfare to female genital mutilation”, was a human rights abuse.

“Sexual violence is widespread in central and eastern Africa; in conflict areas such as eastern [Democratic Republic of] Congo, it has reached almost grotesque proportions,” Tonwe said. “Sexual and gender-based violence should be addressed robustly on several fronts simultaneously, not least because the violence does not end when armed conflict ends – it must be addressed also in post-conflict settings.”

''Violence against women is always a violation of human rights; it is always a crime; and it is always unacceptable''

She said humanitarian actors and development partners in east and central Africa were urging all governments participating in the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (IC/GLR) – an African Union-UN initiative – to ratify and translate into national law a protocol for the prevention and suppression of sexual violence against women and children.

The IC/GLR adopted the protocol in 2006 as part of its pact on security, stability and development. The pact is expected be enforced once ratified by at least eight of the 11 signatory countries in east and central Africa. So far, only Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have done so while Kenya’s parliament has endorsed it. Angola, Republic of Congo, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia have yet to ratify it.

In his message for 25 November, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said despite considerable progress by many countries in changing laws, policies, practices and attitudes, which in the past had helped create a “patchwork of impunity for this despicable offence”, there was so much left to do to “tear down the veil of tolerance which still sometimes surrounds it.

“Violence against women is always a violation of human rights; it is always a crime; and it is always unacceptable,” Ban said in a statement issued in New York. “Let us take this issue with the deadly seriousness that it deserves – not only on this International Day, but every day.”

He said the UN family was stepping up its activities at all levels – from new initiatives by regional commissions to better coordination and programming at country level. He added that efforts were under way to raise public awareness, build political will and provide effective responses.

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Historic Election In Argentina

Posted on 9 November 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Politics |

Cristina Fernandez, former first lady and senator, has become the first women to be elected president in Argentina.

Fernandez faces several major challenges as she enters office. Foremost will be the economic woes due to rising inflation and energy shortages. Photo Credit:

Senator and First Lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner this week became the first woman to be elected President of Argentina. The fifty-four-year-old lawyer and politician received about twice as many votes as her closest opponent, Elisa Carrio.Cristina Fernandez will take office in December when her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, steps down after one term. She will face difficult issues including Argentina’s high inflation rates and energy shortages.

Her support comes mainly from Argentina’s lower classes. Political observers say she could lose that support if she is unable to slow
inflation and deal with the energy problems.

Elisa Carrio, a former legislator known for her campaign against corruption, had the strong support of wealthier voters. She won the big cities of Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Rosario.

Argentina has the second largest economy in South America, after Brazil. The economy has grown at more than eight percent a year during Nestor Kirchner’s presidency. But the country has a large international debt. And one-fourth of its thirty-seven million people still live in poverty.

President-elect Fernandez has promised to continue her husband’s policies. Many people believe his success in improving the economy helped her rise to the presidency. Argentina suffered a financial crisis in two thousand one and two thousand two.

_44009872_kirchner_afp300bo1.jpgShe says she will work to improve employment, health care, education — and Argentina’s foreign relations. Her husband has traveled little outside the country during his four years as president. But she has spent recent months meeting with foreign leaders.

Citizens eighteen to seventy living in Argentina are required to vote. Those living outside the country are not required. But Argentine Embassy spokeswoman Danielle de la Fuente in Washington said many came to the consulate to vote in Sunday’s election.

Argentina also has a law to support the involvement of women in politics. It requires one-third of legislative candidates to be women.

Cristina Fernandez will join Michelle Bachelet of Chile as the only female presidents in Latin America. But while Argentina will have its first elected female president, she will not be the first woman to lead the country. Vice President Isabel Peron became president after her husband, General Juan Peron, died in nineteen seventy-four.

President Kirchner and his wife lead the Peronist party, a movement that grew out of the rule of General Peron. Some people think they will try to exchange the presidency between them for the next twelve years. Argentine law permits a former president to run again after a four-year wait.

Many people compare Cristina Fernandez to American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Both women are senators and lawyers whose husbands were governors and then presidents.

Related Stories at kenvironews:

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Credit Access to Women Key to Breaking Cycle of Poverty

Posted on 18 October 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Poverty |

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Mary Mwihaki selling chips in Mathare, Nairobi

IRIN – Besides education, health and good infrastructure, access to credit ranks high among the priorities of millions of Kenyans living in informal settlements in urban and rural areas.

Even small amounts can be enough to break out of the poverty trap.

“I started this business of selling chips [French fries] two years ago using money we raised as a group of 30 women,” Mary Mwihaki, 27, a resident of Mathare, one of Kenya’s large slum areas in the capital Nairobi, told IRIN.

Every day, each of the women in Mwihaki’s group contributes Sh20 (30 US cents) and the resulting Sh600 ($9) is given to a different member of the group on a rotating basis. Mwihaki had to wait three months to raise the $27 she needed.

Groups such as Mwihaki’s, mostly comprising women, have sprung up across the country in the past few years, with a wide range of daily contributions. Even those engaged in formal employment are forming such credit unions, paying up to Sh10,000 per month.

As the world marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October, Mwihaki and thousands of other Kenyans belonging to self-help groups continue their efforts to cross the poverty line, hoping to have more access to credit facilities.

“The profit I make from this chips business is not enough to cater for its expansion and at the same time meet my family’s daily needs of food, water and clothing,” Mwihaki said. “In fact, getting sick is something no one in our family can afford; if you are sick, you swallow painkillers bought from the kiosk and hope for the best; we simply cannot afford hospitalisation.”

Sylvia Mudasia-Mwichuli, the Africa Communications Coordinator for the UN Millennium Campaign, said 46 percent of Kenyans survive on less than a dollar a day, which could be reversed as the country was rich in natural resources.

“Kenya has no excuse to have poor people,” she said. “Kenya posted 6 percent growth last year; it has enough resources and the government has good development plans, which if properly implemented, would see a drastic drop in the number of poor people.”

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in Nairobi

However, she said, Kenya was generally on track to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with only two goals still a source of concern: maternal mortality and environmental sustainability.

At the UN headquarters in Nairobi, staff joined people around the world in a campaign dubbed Stand UP Against Poverty, Speak Out. This year’s campaign aimed to set a Guinness World Record in the number of people involved worldwide after 23.5 million people took part in 2006.

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    A blog created to cover environmental and political information in Kenya with a view to promoting POVERTY ALLEVIATION through creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals


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