This year Kenya marked the International Women’s Day on March 8th with over 4,000 women and men from all walks of life, at an event in Nairobi attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta. The event was also graced by women who have been at the forefront of the struggle for equal rights for Kenyan women including veteran legislator Hon. Phoebe Asiyo; Hon. Cecily Mbarire the current chair of the Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association (KEWOPA) and the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning Anne Waiguru under whose docket Gender issues fall. The UN was represented by the Under Secretary General and Director General of the UN Office in Nairobi Ms Sahle-Work Zewde.
President Uhuru Kenyatta during the event urged people to celebrate the positive progress Kenya has achieved with regard to women’s rights. ‘It’s a time to appreciate how far we have come and lets all acknowledge the role women play for our nation’. The President acknowledged the milestones yet to be achieved, ‘We have started the journey, we are not there yet but by working together we will get there’.
In their remarks, all the speakers highlighted the gains as well as challenges that persist with regard to gender equality. Linah Kilimo the head of the newly set up Anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Board highlighted the need to eliminate harmful practices such as FGM by working closely with other stakeholders. In her remarks Ms Sahle-Work Zewde commended the government for its recent investments in the economic empowerment of Kenyan women through various interventions including allocation of 30% of all public procurement to businesses owned by women, youth and persons with disability. She noted that this had ‘illustrated clearly that, investment in women is not only a matter of human rights, it also makes economic sense.’
UN Women together with UNFPA supported a special newspaper pullout in the Standard Newspaper which was published on March 8th. It showcased UN Women’s work as well as carrying messages from the UN Executive Director, Regional and Country Directors.
The International Women’s Day week this year was commemorated at the UN Complex in Nairobi on Thursday March 6th. Events were convened under the auspices of the GoK-UN Joint Programme on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (JP GEWE) which is coordinated by UN Women. The first of these events was a Multi-Generational Dialogue, which brought together 400 participants consisting of students from 7 Universities from across the country, UN staff and young people. The Dialogue’s themes centered around ‘securing equal rights and opportunities for Kenya women and girls through the MDGs’. Five panelists drawn from women’s civil society groups, 3 universities and the UN formed the moderated panel for the day.
In her remarks, UN Women Country Director, Zebib Kavuma stated that the dialogue was an opportunity ‘to jointly explore novel ways for engaging a new generation of Kenyan women and men, in the work towards gender equality. Speaking as she officially opened the Dialogue, UNON Director General Ms Sahle-Work Zewde said ‘the UN recognizes the huge potential that young women and men represent in bringing diversity to the discourse on the post-2015 development agenda in Kenya’. She emphasized the need to engage a new generation of Kenyan women and men, who had grown up enjoying the benefits of the MDGs particularly Goal 3 on gender equality and who now were one of the biggest assets towards the achievement of the post-2015 development agenda, particularly in creating a country where all Kenyan women, girls, boys and men enjoy equal rights.
Following very engaging interventions from the 5 panelists, the floor was opened up for what proved to be very vibrant and engaging discussions. Dr. Abdul Lamin, Social and Human Sciences Specialist at UNESCO’s regional office put forward the challenge participants to see it as the ‘civic responsibility of young women and men to push the gender equality agenda forward’. The forum highlighted the importance of getting men on board as they hold the power that contributes to gender inequality. A student from Technical University noted that it was important for men to recognize that the power they held had traditionally been used for divisive purposes. In order to change this conceptualization of power, it was necessary for men to engage amongst themselves to examine the meaning of empowerment.
As part of the IWD celebrations, the Joint Programme commissioned a Photo Exhibition to capture the views of ordinary Kenyan women and men from around the county regarding gender equality. The Exhibition was launched on March 6th by the acting Resident Coordinator and WFP Country Director Mr Ronald Sibanda.
The images in the Photo Exhibition captured the growing movement of support for gender equality in Kenya, from amongst ordinary men and women. In their words, they embrace the notion that equality for all is progress for all – that, equality for Kenyan women has had positive effects on families, communities and the country as a whole. Secondly, they capture the essence of personal commitment in ensuring that all women, girls, boys and men in this country, enjoy equal rights and opportunities. At the same time the candid words and images managed to also convey the unease with which some women and men, view the empowerment of women.
The Exhibition later moved to the city center beginning with a showing at the March 8th event at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), then moving to the streets of Nairobi from 9th to 11th March. It is hoped that the images can travel around the country with various UN agencies, to encourage candid dialogue on the roles of citizens and duty bearers in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.
The images will also be on display on the JP GEWE website www.jpgewe.org