Azimio, Kenya Kwanza offer simplistic gender proposals

Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua (left) and his Kenya Kwanza counterpart William Ruto and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Azimio’s proposed Gender Management System and Gender Research and Documentation centres sound impressive but are vacuous.
  • From Kenya Kwanza, one wonders whether violence will be solved by increasing staff at police gender desks and funding the Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Board!

The main political coalitions launched manifestos containing a section titled ‘Women (sic) Agenda’ outlining how they will address women’s empowerment. A look at the provisions is quite revealing.

That Azimio does not see opportunities in law, civil society, government institutions, national gender policy, educational reforms and devolution as anchors on which to build this agenda, is simply astounding.

Its commitment to cushioning widows and single mothers “from the hardships of their losses” is typical charlatanry of victimising women and the proposed solution of social protection is tokenistic and not transformative.

The commitment to facilitating local manufacture of sanitary towels suggests that pads are currently imported, which is plain incorrect.

Sanitary towels

Kenya Kwanza proposes to “provide free sanitary towels in all schools and establish public washrooms”. These proposals ignore the elephant in the room, namely lack of comprehensive adolescent sexual and reproductive health services and education. This is a problem of policy failure regarding planning, taxation, production and distribution.

Kenya Kwanza seeks to solve women’s health problems by deploying “adequate numbers of skilled community health workers on a regular stipend”.

Will this address the root causes of maternal mortality, teenage pregnancies, unaffordable healthcare, distances to health services, malnutrition, harmful traditional practices and sexually transmitted diseases?

Azimio commits to improving access to government funds and affordable credit to women. Kenya Kwanza thinks the solution lies in supporting “women-led co-operative societies, merry-go-rounds and table banking initiatives”.

These desires evade the fact that existing government funds are ineffective because of bureaucracy, corruption and scale.

Moreover, they are founded on a questionable belief that women can only be empowered through compartmentalised, rather than mainstream financial systems. Kenya Kwanza also proposes “a social welfare fund for Kenyan women working abroad to provide a safety net for distressed diaspora citizens”. But just what problem does this fund seek to solve?

Failed legislation

Both formations promise to achieve the ‘not more than one-third gender rule’ in elective or appointive bodies. They must, of course, know that efforts to pass legislation on this principle have been persistently defied by Parliament, with impunity.

Unless the coalitions specify what they are going to do differently, the promises are mere slogans.

Azimio’s commitment to increasing uptake of technical and vocational training by young women in informal settlements and rural areas is elitist and assumes that only lasses in the mentioned locales need this kind of education.

Moreover, evidence shows that even when women are offered opportunities to take up such courses, they still gravitate towards feminised trades, meaning that the problem is that of socialisation, not lack of opportunity.

Elitism is again evident in the commitment to establishing business incubation centres for rural women. Why not urban ones too? Azimio also proposes “grassroots Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics girls’ clubs”.

First, the word ‘grassroots’ is elitist and demeaning. Second, such clubs already exist. Why have they not enhanced girls’ uptake of the subjects?

Centres

Azimio’s proposed Gender Management System and Gender Research and Documentation centres sound impressive but are vacuous. What exactly is a gender management system? Why do we need it instead of mainstreaming gender in the whole government? Why new research and documentation centres, yet the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and universities exist?

The Azimio commitment to expanding “care services as well as support unpaid care work through paid family leave and flexible working arrangements” is also problematic. What is meant by ‘expand’ and ‘support’?

The problem of unpaid domestic work is that it is not recognised and accounted for in national statistics, yet it is an opportunity cost for women. Furthermore, mothers are not supported for creating the next generation of workers, voters and taxpayers.

Paid family leave is already in the Employment Act. Does Azimio plan to introduce another one? The proposals actually reinforce the stereotype of women as the primary parents and will just re-configure rather than reduce their workload.

Street lighting

To tackle gender-based violence, Azimio will “enhance security and street lighting around the country”. Violence is mainly perpetrated by intimate partners and arises from social norms. How will street lighting address these factors?

Another proposal is to provide integrated one-stop centres in healthcare facilities. This deals with response; the more useful thing is prevention.

From Kenya Kwanza, one wonders whether violence will be solved by increasing staff at police gender desks and funding the Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Board! Kenya Kwanza also proposes to enforce spousal consent to protect women and children from being dispossessed of family land. Is this not one of the responsibilities of land boards?

In short, if the simplistic proposals in the manifestos are the best on offer by the contenders for government, then women’s empowerment in Kenya will remain a mirage.

Dr Miruka is an international gender and development consultant and scholar; ([email protected])

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