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KENYA:Women's Resilience Is Laudable

Kenyan women are a unique breed of species. The paradoxical way in which they lead their lives has earned them international applause. One minute, they succumb to violence and other sorts of intimidation and the next minute, they are at the forefront of advocating for their rights. Despite the myriad of challenges that they face on a daily basis, often are the times they tend to defy the odds and emerge victorious.

Violence against women remains the biggest challenge in Kenya but the same vice has brought a number of them together to fight for their rights. Their very resilience nature in handling mind-boggling issues is their number one survival mechanism. While the government of Kenya continues to make progress in combating violence against women, numerous challenges remain. Violence against women is still pervasive: domestic violence, female genital mutilation, rape, attacks and intimidation against women political candidates.

The past two months of Kenya’s political deadlock that arose from a disputed Presidential poll relegated women to mere recipients of violence. To start with, women politicians faced the wrath of lynching and intimidation, placing them in a second class position against their male counterparts. Such harassment did not deter them from aspiring for political seats, as seen in the case of one Ms. Flora Tera, a former parliamentary aspirant from the mountainous region of Meru. Tera is a clear example of women intimidation in politics. When she announced her interest to run for a parliamentary seat, her sentiments didn’t go well with her rivals, most of who were male candidates. As a result, Tera faced brutal beatings and was hospitalised for weeks. Her situation prompted other women to rise up against the vice and more so, contest for even higher political seats. Tera’s pain and humiliation acted like a wake-up call for Kenyan women to defy all odds and prove pessimists that they were not mere second class citizens.

Studies clearly show that societies which promote the participation of women and the protection of their rights are more dynamic and prosperous. Those studies also show that greater participation by women helps to limit corruption and the promotion of good governance. It is imperative to note that the face of Kenya is changing and women are increasingly in the forefront of the transformation of this society. Though their efforts are sometimes invisible in the larger world, women are often the real agents of change in society, working to improve the lives of people in their communities even as they struggle to feed and educate their children.

In the face of violence that engulfed Kenya after the elections, women bore the heaviest brunt. Their houses were burnt, property stolen, their children killed in full glare of their mothers and worst still, rape cases became imminent. Rape was used a weapon of violence and defeat against women. From the sprawling Nairobi slums down to the villages, women encountered numerous challenges whose primary objective was to intimidate them. In Kibera, one of East Africa’s biggest slums, the worst scenario was when husbands were dragged out of their houses to fight for their course. This left their wives disillusioned as they had to cater for their family needs unilaterally. Most of these women were jobless at the time but they had to toil hard and get meals on the tables. In the wake of such crisis, prominent Kenyan women gained new strength as they put pressure on political leaders to end the impasse. One such remarkable woman is Ms. Betty Maina, the chair of the Kenyan Association of Manufacturers. She mobilised the business community to bring pressure on leaders. Working tirelessly, she made known the negative economic effects of the crisis on the business community and on the average Kenyan. Women played a crucial role in resolving this country’s recent political crisis. The voices of mothers, sisters and daughters of Kenya reverberated with the leadership of both sides. Their outcry caught the attention of not only politicians but also diplomatic corps affiliated to Kenya. The US Embassy in Nairobi for instance was at the forefront of championing women’s rights. In his visit to camps hosting the internally displaced persons, the US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger was touched by the resilience and strength of women- who had lost almost everything to the violence. In a statement, he was quoted as saying that he was impressed by the desire of women to ‘pick up the pieces’ and build a better future for themselves and their families.

Another cross cutting issue that continues to hamper women’s development is the infamous Female Genital Mutilation (women circumcision). Some societies in Kenya give high cognizance to FGM, despite the fact that it is a health constraint. This is considered a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood but on a higher notch, some parents think that by circumcising their daughters, the act will prevent them from promiscuity. FGM continues to kill girls due to excessive bleeding and infections arising from the procedure; it kills women and their babies by increasing the risk of complications during childbirth; it also contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS. In essence, FGM is both a serious health issue as well as an abuse of internationally recognised human rights standards.

Women who undergo the ritual are regarded naive yet their resilience prompts them to spearhead the fight against the practice. In the North rift, an area prone to FGM practice, women continue to defy the rules and champion their rights. A number of them have run away from home in fear of circumcision. They continue to mobilise others to defy the rite and instead come up with an alternative method. Gender activities on the other hand continue to implore the government to create the National Anti-FGM body which will be responsible for advising, policy formulation, resource mobilization and coordinating Kenyan government activities against FGM. Ruth Konchella started an organisation-Cherish Others whose role is to implement an anti FGM education program aimed at school children in the Transmara region. The program will reach approximately 600 young women and 30 village leaders.

Kenyan women are optimistic that the government will continue championing their rights through equitable distribution of resources. On their part, they have vowed not to leave any stone unturned in ensuring that violence against them is completely abolished.

SOURCE: Africa News

AUTHOR: Joyce Joan Wangui

URL: Click here

DATE: 18/03/2008

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