Journey to freedoms that began a century ago

Irene Githinji @gitshee

Today, the world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) and more than ever, there has been a strong call to action to ensure gender parity is mainstreamed in all sectors. Getting to where the world is today, in as far as women rights are concerned has not been a walk in the park.

Although the ‘we are not yet there’ aspect has not been fully achieved, the world has seen significant strides in ensuring women are in leadership positions, a departure from the past.

This year, International Women’s Day is being celebrated under the theme #PressforProgress, a strong call to unite, think, act and be gender inclusive. It is celebrated in March 8 every year. Its history dates back in the 1900s when women marched through New York demanding for voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours.

In 1910, a lady Clara Zetkin, leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day, suggesting every country celebrates women on one day every year to push for their demands.

A conference of more than 100 women from 17 countries agreed to her suggestion and IWD was formed. In 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19. In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since.

The day was recognised by United Nations in 1975 and ever since it has created a theme each year for the celebration. In 2011, former US President Barack Obama proclaimed March to be ‘Women’s History Month’. Ever since, mainstreaming women issues has been put at the centre stage and Kenya has not been left behind.

The 1963 Constitution of Kenya was to some extent, for the idea of affirmative action as it made direct provisions for the protection and inclusion of minority communities in the governance system.

As to equality of citizens, reference was made to Sections 14 and 26, stated that every person in Kenya was entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms though not much was realized under the old Constitution.

But the need to introduce affirmative action in the various leadership positions was emphasised and even factored in Constitution 2010. But achieving the two-thirds gender rule has not been easy.

Parliament is yet to pass legislation that enforces this principle despite being directed to do so by the courts. The society, however, has seemingly had a change of mindset and women are now being elected into leadership positions.

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