UN Women Kenya on the 24th November 2015 launched the HeForShe solidarity movement within the Kenyan Judiciary. The event which took place at the Supreme Court grounds came on the eve of the International Day for the elimination of Violence against women (16 Days Activism).
The Chief Justice (center) alongside members of the judiciary and UN Women staff upon successful launch of the HeForShe Campaign within the Judiciary
The event that was organized by UN Women Kenya, and the Kenya Women Judges Association (KWJA)
In attendance were the Chief Justice, Dr. Willy Mutunga, who was the guest of honor, Deputy Chief Justice Hon. Lady Justice Kapana Rawal, President of the Court of Appeal Justice Kihara Kariuki, Judges of the Supreme Court, Judges of the High Court, Chairperson of the Kenya Women Judges Association (KWJA) Hon. Lady Justice Hannah Okwengu, Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Hon. Anne Amadi, UN Women Kenya Country Director MS Zebib Kavuma, the Dean Faculty of law in Nairobi University Professor Kameri Mbote and human rights activist and clergy Timothy Njoya.
The event involved a panel discussion moderated by the University of Nairobi Dean Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote who engaged panelist whose composition cut across generational representation and religion who shared personal testimonies what Gender Equality means to them. The all-men panel included the Deputy Chief Kadhi Rashid Ali Omar, Kenya Judicial Staff Association President Sango Maewa, Judge of the Court of appeal Justice Ibrahim Mohamed, President of the Court of Appeal Justice Kihara Kariuki, the Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga, Human Rights activist and Clergy Reverend, Timothy Njoya, Presiding Judge (Environment and Land Court) Justice Samson Okongo, and Registrar of the Magistrate Court, Hon Peter Mulwa.
From the inception of the Judiciary system in Kenya, it took 96 years for the first woman magistrate, Retired Honorable Judge Ephie Owuor to be sworn in, 98 years for the second and 106 years for the third. The first Lady Deputy Chief Justice in Kenya was appointed after 124 years. These positions were availed to women only in the mid 70’s after the professionalization of the bench prior to which the few Lady Judges were not African.
As a result of the promulgation of the new constitution the number of women Judges and Magistrates has increased. This has been achieved through the bill of rights, two thirds gender rule, and recognition of the socio-economic rights.
Currently, 53% of Chief Magistrate, 40% of Senior Principle Magistrates, 35% of Principle Magistrates, 44% of Senior Resident Magistrates, and 59% of Resident Magistrate are women. There are 56 female Judges and 86 male Judges representing 39% as opposed to 9 female and 33 male in 2010. The number of male and female Mgistrates on the other hand stands at 230 and 216 respectively which is a near 50-50 balance.
UN Women Country Director Ms Zebib Kavuma pointed out the increased Violence Against Women and Girls despite the International, Regional and national Human Rights Instruments which Kenya is signatory to. This she attributed to the lack of knowledge on Human Rights Framework by key agents in the Justice system, culture of tolerance to criminal offences against women, inadequate training by law enforcers in dealing with victims of violence, deprivation of property rights, inadequate support for women inheritance and child custody rights.
The panel discussion was very engaging. Some key messages stated by the respected panelist include those of;
Judge Justice Samson Okongo pointed out that there exists laws protecting women but still there is need to change our culture stating that these cultures can change once members of the public are sensitized and made aware on the issue of gender equality.
Reverend Timothy Njoya stated that in the past men have used oppression on women to express their masculinity and this has changed overtime in different countries around the world.
Justice Kihara Kariuki challenged women to believe in themselves urging them not to censure themselves or look over their shoulders to be pushed. “Even as we champion for our women, they must lead from the front.” He stressed.
Justice Warsame urged gender equality activists to empower women beyond the urban areas stating that the benefits need to be felt in the marginalized areas as well.
Honorable. Sango Maewa, stating the need for a rotational Chief Justice position on gender basis urged women to apply for the position once the current term of the Chief Justice comes to an end.
The Deputy Chief Justice noted that as much as gender equality is an issue in the world, Kenya and the Judiciary to be precise had made notable steps.
The Chief Justice, Dr. Willy Mutunga, attributed the rise in Gender Based Violence to lack of economic empowerment of women that leaves them marginalized, lack of adequate laws to protect women and deeply rooted socio-cultural norms, with the latter making the legal response towards Gender Based Violence hardly sufficient.
The Chief Justice in underscoring the need for cultural transformation stated “There is still much that remains to be done to expose the way in which male dominated cultures produce men who identify and view Gender Based Violence through the lens of power relation.”
Figure 1: (From left to right) The Chief Justice of the republic of Kenya Honorable Dr. Will Mutunga makes his remarks before signing for the HeForShe Campaign (Picture by Kennedy Okoth)
However, he added that the Judiciary is trying to address the cultural blind spots in its processes through the judiciary transformation framework that has embarked in changing the culture of the Judiciary from within for efficiency, effectiveness and to add quality of justice. This is being achieved through training and sensitization of its officers in identifying the blind spots.
The Chief Justice sited the judiciary as having a greater opportunity in the campaign to become beacons of progress in Gender Equality to other institutions in the country.
He pointed out that “My message is to all my colleagues who are here is that this is a great opportunity in this campaign to become a beacon for other institutions to follow”
He went further and urged men to show commitment to gender equality through their action stating that “not all men who have intellectually embraced gender equality and recognize its objective merit socially live the fact”
The event saw the Chief justice alongside judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal share personal experiences on sacrifices made by their mothers, sisters, women in their lives and their encounters in the course of their career with gender equality and women rights issues. The chief Justice as the head of the Judiciary signed up as a champion the HeForShe Solidarity movement for gender equality challenging the rest to follow suit. “The judiciary is in the process to developing a gender policy that will keep the judiciary accountable to the gender equality and women’s empowerment. Moving forward, the Chief Justice committed that courts in all counties will sign up to the HeForShe movement.