Use gender rule to fight all ills

A woman holds a placard during a peaceful demonstration in support of Chief Justice David Maraga's advisory to President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve Parliament over failure to pass two thirds gender rule.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The legislation to outlaw FGM was premature and will further violate human rights of vulnerable communities, which need support not jail terms.
  • Globally , 38 per cent of women are killed by their intimate male partners, according to WHO.
  • Sexual violence such as rape in the communities and in conflict add further fatalities to the statistics.

As we discuss lack of gender parity in our politics, women leaders should also consider how they handle women affairs generally.

For instance, I still believe female genital mutilation (FGM) is given unfair prominence over other types of abuses against Kenyan women. It is the least of all ‘abuses’.

FGM, which I prefer to describe as FC (female circumcision), is still embedded in many cultures and winning hearts and minds first is required to phase out. I am not convinced that it is an emergency that needs government effort and money thrown at it.

The legislation to outlaw FGM was premature and will further violate human rights of vulnerable communities, which need support not jail terms.

Statistically female circumcision has fewer risks to women than domestic abuse, which affects approximately one in three women every week. Globally , 38 per cent of women are killed by their intimate male partners, according to WHO. Sexual violence such as rape in the communities and in conflict add further fatalities to the statistics.

The pandemic has shown how widespread violence towards women is. Higher cases of femicides and infanticides are also now being reported in Kenya. For an issue that has led to more deaths, gender-based violence is not getting the level of support, financially and in publicity that FGM is getting from the government.

Fighting violence

If we are honest in fighting violence towards women, then we also need to protect women and children by providing excellent maternity care. What we witnessed recently of a woman giving birth on the tarmac in front of Pumwani Maternity Hospital gate speaks volumes of the standard of maternity care there is for women from low income areas.

Pumwani is meant to be one of the premier hospitals in the country that should be setting the gold standard for maternity and neonatal care. But its healthcare standard keeps falling.

There can be no worse form of violence to both women and children than lack of proper medical care. Pumwani and other public hospitals are not funded well enough to offer the level of care to protect mothers and infants during childbirth. Poor women bear the brunt of societal abuse for lack of good maternity care.

We are fixated on FGM and sliding along without asking ourselves the hard questions as to whether we have addressed all types of violence against women and girls.

Doggedly pursuing communities that supposedly practise FGM gets us blindsided and we don’t notice other forms of violence against women that are much more harmful, such as lack of quality education and healthcare for mother and child.

Patriarchal political system

Our patriarchal political system has a lot to answer for. The few women in politics have not done much to improve the rights of women as their voices get drowned out by the many male politicians in Parliament. Claims that some women leaders are self-serving is partially true as they adopt characteristics of our patriarchal politics of smash and grab to quick riches.

It is uncertain as to whether the two-thirds gender rule will help to improve things for women. Having the Woman Representatives was a precursor to gender parity in our politics but has been a huge disappointment.

Their involvement in women affairs can only be judged through knee-jerk reactions that follow violation of women’s rights. Storming facilities where women have been violated is unwelcome aggression and an inconvenience. They should proactively formulate policies that pre-empt and prevent violations of women.

However, that is not happening as Woman Reps have focused on improving their lives rather than for those they represent. Having a photo op with schoolgirls as they distribute menstrual pads is not showing leadership qualities or compassion.

If anything, it is humiliation for the girls. This is an issue that needs to be handled with dignity. Instead of making it an individual project for leaders, why not have a uniform and dignified way of distributing pads to schoolgirls and women suffering period poverty? Why not offer it as a free monthly prescription for chemists to issue them? Menstrual cycle is not a one-off experience but a monthly one.

Violence towards women cannot be addressed selectively. It is a chain and requires a holistic approach to achieve the goal of empowering women. Saving a girl from periods or female circumcision but denying her quality education that would equip her with tools to protect herself from other forms of violence is hypocritical.

To run marathons in the name of improving mother and child healthcare and then embezzle money and facilities for such a project exacerbates their abuse.

Women become their own worst enemy by failing to speak with one voice on matters that affect them. If ever it gets enacted, the gender rule should offer a challenge for incoming female leaders to raise their voices higher in fighting to eradicate all forms of violence against women than selectively pursue the well-funded projects.

  kdiguyo@gmail.com @kdiguyo