Women make up slightly more than half of the population in Kenya. Maybe even exactly half of the population depending on which statistics you are looking at and which of those statistics you choose to believe. What this means is that politicians not handling women’s issues are basically ignoring half of the population which then translates to not making a very good impression about themselves and failing in their mandate.
We are going to do a list of women’s issues that we think any politician who hopes to remain relevant must pay attention to and either construct working solutions and come up with good solutions to tackle the issues during and even beyond their tenure in office or join the list of all the inept leaders that we have seen come and go in this country.
Here are 9 issues that should be top-of-mind issues for politicians to consider.
- FGM And Child Marriages
If we unanimously agree that FGM has no place in the 21st Century, then can we please see this practice stopped? Leaders who are pledging to change society for the better, is it possible for us to sign an undertaking that it is about time no girl is held back by retrogressive cultures? FGM has a lot of long and short-term effects. Some girls die because of bleeding after FGM, some get life-threatening infections some of which lead to issues in the reproductive system and also let us not forget it means that these women cannot experience sexual pleasure in their relationships.
FGM, especially among pastoralist communities in Kenya, is responsible for many child marriages. In other words, school dropouts and illiteracy among girls which is a ticket to irrelevance because in today’s world, a heavy premium is put on a good education. Girls who miss out on a good education end up with fewer opportunities and this also impacts negatively on any children that they have. Studies have shown that a girl’s education level has an impact on the health of the children she has because of access to information. It also influences the performance of the children because if she is educated she is better able to help with schoolwork.
From experience, however, the normal approaches to dealing with FGM through legislation are not nearly as effective – that is if the media reports on the practice still being widely practised are anything to go by. The incoming political leaders should look at other social-cultural approaches to dealing with this challenge. At the end of the day, as a society, we must move forward together and hopefully, the people coming into office will put in some serious effort to turn this into a reality, most of them just pay lip service to this. How men can prevent violence against women
2. Reproductive health
Recently, Tanzanian President, Magufuli caused a stir when he said that girls who become pregnant while in school should be kicked out and not allowed to complete their studies. This caused a huge uproar because this is against the rights of girls to get an education – John Magufuli’s pregnant schoolgirl ban angers Tanzanian women.
Leaders who take up political positions must be willing to engage and tackle, head-on, the problem of sexuality among teenagers – such a leader must be able to engage with stakeholders and other policy people together with the civil society to ensure that the challenge of teenage pregnancy, as well as school drop out for girls as a direct consequence of this, is dealt with. The thing is, it is not easy to deal with questions of morality such as sexuality, Ezekiel Mutua tried to remove kissing from Kenyan movies but teenagers still become pregnant.
This is a complex issue. Any leader that takes office must be willing to confront these issues logically and provide direction that not only gets to the root of this problem but also provides a solution that actually outlives them. What is missing in our system that is making a high number of girls become pregnant? The search for direction should begin here. The truth is that all these knee-jack reactions we keep having in this country over issues are unlikely to help anyone.
Teenagers are at the centre of this because they are a core population – the next set of mothers that society is going to have. If we begin to condemn them for illiteracy just because they became pregnant (an indictment, partly to the society), just what future do we have?
Leaders who are coming into office must be willing to confront this issue.
3. Sexual violence
Not too long ago, a Malindi High Court judge got an award for delivering the worst judgement ever. This judge ruled in the favour of a 24-year-old man who sexually defiled a 13-year-old arguing that the minor accepted the advances and that kind of nonsense. Women’s Link Worldwide Criticised this judgement which, expectedly attracted a lot of condemnation from all quarters for setting a very dangerous precedence.
Are penalties against rape as they should be? Are we as a society still apologising for rapists and creating excuses for them?
Are authorities taking seriously women who report spousal sexual abuse? We have lost count of the number of stories that we have read in the media about women who are sexually abused but who cannot report because the authorities they are to report do not take seriously rape that happens within a marriage or committed relationship. One of the sad things is that sometimes some of our politicians are the ones being accused of sexual assault on women. Also during the election period sometimes women candidates are threatened with sexual violence if they continue with their campaigns. Also after elections and during security operations when there is violence women are affected because they are vulnerable to sexual violence. Women who are raped also have to deal with issues of stigmatisation, and trauma, and also many get pregnant or are infected with STDs/HIV.
One of the sad things is that sometimes some of our politicians are the ones being accused of sexual assault on women. During the election period sometimes women candidates are threatened with sexual violence if they continue with campaigns. After elections and during security operations when there is violence women are affected because they are more vulnerable to sexual violence. Women who are raped also have to deal with issues of stigmatisation and trauma. Also many get pregnant or have their reproductive system messed up or are infected with STDs/HIV.
Political leaders that take up office must strongly uphold the law and make sure it protects everyone that it deserves to protect. The security of all women is important and no woman should have to live in fear of getting assaulted. There are places in Kenya where the threat of sexual assault is a normal thing and it shouldn’t be.
We need to be clear about what the law says and as aspiring political leaders, these are some of the things that they should be willing to look into. They have to ensure that society is a safe place for all its members and we do not have characters who prey on others simply because there are judges who are willing to twist the law as we know it.
Political leaders taking up office must be strong mentally as well as intellectually to be able to go to the precipice of the big problem that is sexual violence and knock down barriers and replace them with a path towards a better Kenya where sexual violence will be a thing of the past or at least, a place where perpetrators of these offences will know that there are serious consequences for their actions.
A month or two ago, Nation newspaper slapped us with a headline: We want condoms, teens say. The study went on to look at just how little this moral talk is helping and why it is better for these sexually active teenagers to be safe than sorry. Of course, there is the moral side of this debate that argues that teenagers are too young for contraceptives.
The fact that many Kenyan women do not have access to contraceptives is an issue to be addressed. Family planning is an important issue and this is not an issue that seems to be talked about by politicians. They all want numbers to vote. Women have made many strides over the last few years but the lack of enough access to contraceptives means many women, especially in the rural areas, are having too many children who they struggle to support and bring up. Some of these women were getting contraceptives from international donors but now even that is threatened by President Trump’s policies – How Trump signed a global death warrant for women.
Abortion is also in this mix as well as the condom politics – should we or should we not? What does the law say about abortion, for example? And what is the reality on the ground? Abortion is literary a hot button in this country. And in the midst of this heat, no one clearly looks at what the law says regarding the issue and the result is a lot of grey areas. In the absence of knowledge that guides and firm policies and are clearly followed, suspicions and mistakes become the guide.
The Ministry of Health had set guidelines on when legal abortion was allowed. These guidelines have been withdrawn leaving many vulnerable women without options especially those who have experienced sexual violence and also women who are at risk of losing their lives if they carry on with their pregnancy.
This issue needs a sober approach, not only a one-sided religious one.
6. Sanitary towels
Menstrual products are very critical for women and young girls, and for most of us how that critical time is managed has a direct influence on how we view ourselves and that has a very big impact on how we perform in all other spheres of our lives. Many young girls have missed out on school because of their periods and many others have gotten infections because of the materials they have used during their menses. Donating pads is not supposed to be an exercise that political leaders do just for the benefit of the camera.
Political leadership that comes into place must ensure that the promise to provide sanitary towels to school girls is delivered. And it shouldn’t just be in public schools, there are many low-cost private schools where girls also struggle to get sanitary pads and these girls need access to these pads as well.
7. Early marriages
It is a tragedy that in this day and age, we still have girls who have to suffer through child marriages. Child marriage is a practice that is regrettably still rampant in certain parts of this country. Ending child marriages is an important step towards ensuring that the country has women who benefit from the promise of free education up to secondary school which (a good basic education) ensures a firm foundation upon which young girls grow and make things better for themselves.
I hope political leadership that takes up office will work on this, not as a PR exercise but as something that needs to be solved in the move towards the achievement of development in this country.
Research shows that women are more vulnerable when it comes to HIV infections because again, research shows that fewer women have the ability to negotiate for safe sex. So what are the obstacles? What are the factors that make this a problem for women? What measures can the government put in place to ensure that women are protected? Are there any measures that the government should take to protect women in such relationships? Is this information available to all women? Are authorities working as they should when women report cases of relationships where they are being abused sexually?
Political leadership should be concerned that international donors are threatening or have withdrawn funding for HIV/AIDS because of misuse of funds. How the government will step into this gap is something that needs to be considered. This is an important issue that all politicians need to consider.
Many women in rural areas or the poor, really struggle to get access to quality healthcare. We have seen stories in the news about quacks who are posing as medical officers or doctors. Many women are not getting the best in terms of what they need, and many women must journey very many kilometres to get healthcare for themselves and their children. Although the government has made maternity health care free in public hospitals how easy is it for women in rural areas to access these facilities? Access to quality healthcare especially for pregnant women and women with young children between the ages of 0 – 5 is still a big issue.
Politicians should not just talk about healthcare as a campaign tool but they should ensure that people have access to affordable, quality healthcare.
Is the political class failing in providing a holistic approach to these challenges and realities? We think so. And political leaders coming into office must have the mental wherewithal to provide tried, tested and proven successful means of dealing with these issues.
This list does not even begin to exhaust all the issues affecting women that political leaders need to seriously look into and provide solutions to. What this list does is get you thinking and begin to demand action from our political leaders.
Article by Daisy Okoti and Rayhab Gachango.
Featured image via www.businessdailyafrica.com.
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