Thursday, August 27, 2015

Empowering Kenyan women through legal protection

By Racheal Thumbi
Gender equality and women empowerment can go a long way in not only uplifting their livelihood but also improving the economy of the Country. Women can only reach their full potential when given an opportunity.
Women empowerment and their full participation based on equality in all spheres of society including participation in the decision-making process and access to power are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development, and peace.
Women have less access to education, land, and employment. Traditional ideas about the roles of girls and women particularly in rural areas have restricted their contributions. These ideas hold women back from contributing to important development goals, especially in areas of economic growth, nutrition and food security.
Women during a meeting
The Constitution of Kenya 2010, lauded as one of the most progressive in the world, provides a comprehensive Bill of Rights, which spearheads the protection of women. It prohibits discrimination based on among other things, sex, pregnancy, and marital status.
The Kenya constitution has also improved women’s rights particularly on citizenship, land, property, and participation in the political process. It has also ensured that a third of elected and appointed posts in public offices are women.
Provisions like Article 27(4) (6) require the state to take legislative and other measures including affirmative action to redress disadvantage. Article 14(1) (2) also guarantees equal citizenship rights for women and in particular the direct applicability of the Constitutional right of women to pass on Kenyan citizenship to their foreign spouses and children born outside of Kenya.
The Country has also put into place important legal protections for women. These include Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that provides for equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.
African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights also articulates a number of basic rights among them Article 18 that provides for elimination of every discrimination against women.
Ratification of conventions like the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has helped to deal with civil rights, legal status of women, reproduction rights, and cultural factors among others.
These existing legal protections all provide an opportunity for the enactment of progressive laws. However, there are several drawbacks, which would constitute unfair and discriminatory laws among the Kenyan women.
Women knitting
Inadequate knowledge in the society particularly in rural areas on the various laws is a hindrance to access to justice. It is also clear that parliament has not prioritized the enactment of a number of bills that would eliminate sex discriminatory provisions.
There is also minimal or lack of effective monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the constitution protects women.
Enforcing the already existing legal protections can improve the legal status of women particularly in regards to sexual, gender based violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It is also important to create zero tolerance policy with respect to matters of sexual abuse and punishing perpetrators appropriately.
The enactment of the Sexual Offences Act, 2006 provided a comprehensive framework for the protection of women and girls from sexual violence while the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 prohibited the practice of female genital mutilation and safeguards against violation of a person’s mental or physical integrity.
Despite the availability of the two laws, sexual offences and offences relating to FGM are difficult to prosecute as they often involve close relatives. Cultural attitudes and practices also prevent many women from reporting such cases due to the associated stigma.
While recognizing the ongoing efforts aimed at increasing the enrolment and retention of girls in schools, other barriers such as good quality education, physical infrastructure, trained and qualified teachers hinder the achievement of education.
The countless acts of courage carried out by women and their determination to make positive change has significantly contributed to the social and economic development of the country. However, disparity between women and men characterizes most spheres of society in the Country.
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