Focus on keeping promises made to women in 2010 Constitution

Kenya is yet to implement the two-thirds gender rule, male lawmakers defeat every attempt.

In Summary

• Why the clamour to change the Constitution now? Do the proposed changes safeguard the interests of women and those of citizens in any way? 

• However, blatant and flagrant disregard of constitutional provisions has greatly inhibited their realisation - including the two-thirds gender rule.

A public hearing on the two-thirds gender rule.
STORY OF FAILURE: A public hearing on the two-thirds gender rule.
Image: FILE

As I watch the political class battling it out over BBI and the impending referendum, feeling almost like a mere spectator, I am forced to reflect on the journey I took to support the Constitution in 2010 fighting for a better Kenya.

What struck me is the glaring difference between the great promise the 2010 Constitution held for women and a decade later, our failure to observe its spirit, ethics and letter.

The 2010 Constitution was the result of a long and protracted people’s struggle against power and sought to create a society anchored on tenets of social justice and human dignity.

The Constitution that preceded it had a lot of regressive legislation and had been used to suppress fundamental human rights by those in positions of power.

For many years, it ensured that young women for far too long were consigned to the periphery of discussions and strategising to shape the future of Kenya.

Young women’s autonomy and self-development was long held back by the deeply entrenched challenges of violence against women, sexual violence, employment discrimination, domestic violence, HIV-Aids, poor reproductive health and lack of access to safe abortion services among others,

These ills and rights violations were essentially accepted and tolerated by society.

Although there had previously been some opportunities for young women to participate in various aspects of society, we were conscious that by raising our voices as a critical mass we would be creating more opportunities to be heard and to participate.

For young women, the cost of this marginalisation and exposure to violence was too great a price to pay.

Warembo Ni Yes! The campaign in 2010 emerged as a movement of young women, who, in the run-up to the August 4, 2010, referendum, rallied together to collectively leverage the voices and votes of young women as a constituency in support of a new constitution.

The Constitution gave important gains to women and in specific ways to the young ones in an unprecedented attempt to legislate the rights to equality and to equal participation.

The Warembo Ni Yes! The campaign was an unapologetic assertion of the voices of young women, their different needs, different ways of organising and particular interests in the development, political, economic and social decisions that shape Kenya.

Its objectives then were to mobilise young women in Kenya to know their rights as enshrined in the new Constitution, to raise the profile of young women as an important constituency invested in the governance.

It also aimed to promote an appreciation for diversity and tolerance among young women as a critical pillar in building a democratic and inclusive nation.

Organised in the form of grassroots caucuses and congresses, the movement enabled open discussion on topical issues such as women's rights, property ownership, inheritance, sexual and reproductive rights — and mobilised support for the proposed constitution, especially among young women.

That year, women came together and overwhelmingly supported the proposed constitution — with the hope it would reverse their marginalisation, and ensure greater representation in decision-making — effectively putting women at the forefront of their future.

The new Constitution was considered not only a promise of progressive constitutional provisions in Kenya but was also praised as one of the most progressive in Africa.

It made a bold move to legislate equality and with one stroke, it removed the legal provisions that rendered women, second-class citizens. It declared all Kenyans equal, regardless of the individual characteristics that distinguish them.

It was unequivocal in its language on rights and responsibilities. For the first time in Kenya’s 47-year history, the 2010 Constitution acknowledged the youth and the importance of their input.

It tasked the government to ensure they had access to opportunities and institutions that foster their gainful engagement in society.

While Kenyans as a collective today enjoy greater freedoms such as those associated with speech and assembly, blatant and flagrant disregard of constitutional provisions has greatly inhibited their realisation.

Women, too, have achieved increased representation in legislative assemblies at the county and national level. But this numerical representation has not translated into qualitative representation in terms of new legislation put in place to safeguard the rights of women.

More fundamentally, Kenya is yet to implement the two-thirds gender rule.

Women continue to grapple with increased violations, including gender-based violence, control of women’s bodily autonomy, suppression and silencing of women’s voices, femicide and patriarchal cultural practices on inheritance and land ownership.

My reflections on the constitutional process have left a few questions on my mind. Why the clamour to change the Constitution now?

Do the proposed changes safeguard the interests of women and those of Kenyan citizens in any way? Why change something that is barely implemented?

Mumbi is a woman human rights defender and coordinator of Bunge La Wamama Mashinani