As Kenyans join the world in observing the International Women’s Day today, there are many achievements worth celebrating. They include the improved performance of female students in national examinations, with girls emerging top in both the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations last year.
Besides taking the top two positions, female students occupied 54 of the top 100 positions in KCSE. In KCPE, the heartwarming story of Goldalyn Kakuya, the golden girl who defied all odds including living with albinism, struck a blow for girls everywhere. Women also made significant progress in last year’s General Election.
From zero in the 2013 elections, three women were elected governor in 2017. Three women also managed to find their way into the Senate via the ballot from none in the 2013 polls. In the National Assembly, the number of women shot up to a record 23 from 16 in the last Parliament.
While these figures are not anywhere near meeting the One Third Gender threshold set by the Constitution, they tell the story of hope; that with persistence, hard work and tact, women can surmount many of the hurdles in their path to political empowerment.
The figures also tell a story of a society changing for the better: some of the women elected in the last election came from communities that had never elected a woman to Parliament before.
Kenya, like many Third World nations, however still has a long way to go in improving the circumstances of women and girls. In the political front for instance, the failure to come up with a legislative formula that would facilitate compliance with third gender rule has denied women their legitimate share in the Legislature.
The Executive has also been accused of failing to meet the threshold in appointments to various positions including the Cabinet. At another level, many girls and young women still find their progress in life curtailed by cultural and religious beliefs and practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, early marriages and property ownership rules that discriminate against women.
This year’s Women’s Day theme is Press For Progress. In Kenya, there is certainly a lot of room for progress in empowering women and girls. There is need to press for more progress in the area of women participation in public life, for progress towards compliance with constitutional requirements for elective positions and public offices.
We must also push for progress in the process of unshackling women and girls from cultural and social chains that prevent them from achieving their full potential. This can be achieved by pushing for progressive laws, policies and right attitudes.