KIRUKU: EA women rejoice, and I say rejoice! Our chains have been broken

KIRUKU: EA women rejoice, and I say rejoice! Our chains have been broken
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta at last year's FLHM. Photo/File

This Year’s International Women Day was a remarkable one for the East African Community women as the crucial Gender Bill that make provision for gender equality, equity, protection and development in the Community was passed.

The bill, dabbed, ‘EAC Gender Equality, Equity and Development Bill 2016’, whose mover is Hon Nancy Abisai was passed by East African Community Legislators sitting in Kigali, Rwanda on International Women Day.

It is commendable that the region has recognised the immense contribution women make towards social, economic and political development of the Community. The importance of gender equality in the success of various development programmes instituted across the region cannot be underestimated.

The bill, which prohibits all forms of exploitation, cruel, inhuman or degrading practices is a welcome move that if enacted and enforced by all the partner states will see an end to rampant exploitation of women and disadvantaged groups across the region.

Though different partner states have made strides in gender equality, some are still lagging behind in crucial aspects of the gender bill. Though we are not where we would want to be, the number of women in decision making positions has risen drastically over the past few years in all partner states.

Rwanda remains a tool of bench marking, not only for the region but also for the rest of the world; more than 60 per cent of key positions are held by women. Rwanda was ranked position one in this year’s global parliamentary gender equality. Tanzania made history by appointing a women vice president and more than 40 per cent women in the cabinet.

Though Kenya has made great milestones in affirmative action, the country has continuously disregarded the constitutionally enshrined two-third gender rule in public appointments. The two-third gender principle would have ensured that not more than two-thirds of persons from the same gender would be appointed to become members of public bodies. The push to have the bill enacted was rejected by parliament to the fury of women across Kenya.

African countries that rank among the top in parliamentary gender equality in the world like Rwanda and Senegal are among the most stable countries in Africa. In Rwanda, laws that protect children from violence and laws that accord women right to inherit land have been passed and enforced.

It was also refreshing to hear that day the Arusha-based AU African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights swore-in two female Judges to make it a history that there will now be five female judges sitting on the 11-member court!

It is commonplace to find that when there are more women in parliament, laws related to education, health and environment are passed. It is evident that not only are women in public office likely to promote bills that address the socio-economic and political challenges facing the disadvantaged groups, their presence is also key to decreasing corruption and increasing interest in politics among the youth.

One of the key undoing to women empowerment across the region is the retrogressive cultural practices. The cultures of female genital mutilation, wife inheritance, early marriages, gender violence and patriarchal ownership of property have hampered women empowerment in the region.

 As regional integration gets into full gear and more cross border movement of goods and persons is enhanced, it is paramount to find means of curbing retrogressive cultural practices that may be passed from one community to another across the region. The Gender bill should propose programmes and policies that would curb cross border transmission of negative cultural practices.

The bill should put weight on discrimination against women and gender violence which have become prevalent across the region. Gender based violence and female genital mutilation have been identified as some of the most common crimes committed against women in the region.

Women and girls have died others have been permanently maimed due to physical injuries incurred as a result of gender violence. The emotional and psychological torture suffered by women due to gender violence often lead to permanent scars in the victim’s lives.

The bill should make provision for disabled persons who remain largely disadvantaged in all partner states. Disabled children often suffer due to lack of facilities that can accommodate them in schools. The regional partner states, in line with the spirit of the Gender bill, should make it mandatory for all schools to have facilities that are accessible to disabled persons.

The importance of participation of both women and men in social and economic development of the region is key to realising our goals as a Community.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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