Long road to achieving gender equality

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BY NARDOS BEKELE-THOMAS and ZEBIB KAVUMA

Concluding a negotiating process that has spanned more than two years, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted the post 2015 development agenda on September 25, 2015 in New York: 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets that aim to end poverty, combat gender inequality and promote prosperity while protecting the environment by 2030.

The UN has been at the forefront in the support for the protection and promotion of gender equality and women’s rights since its inception, 70 years ago. Article 1 of the UN Charter underscores the importance of “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

” Furthermore, in 1979 – following the first World Women’s Conference in Mexico in 1975 – the UN General Assembly adopted the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” which clearly stipulates women’s rights as a human rights issue and calls for an end to all kinds of discrimination against women. Since then there have been subsequent conferences held in Copenhagen, Nairobi and Beijing. 2015 marks 20 years since the Beijing Platform for Action, which outlined 12 critical areas for action to accelerate and bring about full equality for women and girls.

The UN Millennium Summit, which was held in September 2000, came up with eight time-bound, realistic and achievable sets of goals, commonly known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One of the goals focused on the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment; in full complement to the Beijing Platform for Action. To this end, the UN and its partners have been working hard to support countries to achieve this important goal where women, men, girls and boys enjoy access to rights and opportunities as equal partners.

Despite numerous efforts both at policy and practice levels, gender discrimination still remains deeply rooted in custom and tradition; coupled with under-enforcement of policies and laws. Although Kenya enjoys a progressive and rights-focused Constitution, the country still lags behind when it comes to achieving the MDG goal on gender equality.

Historically, this is reflected in the record of women’s role in both nationalist and development movements that reflects the androcentric reality of the political leadership both in pre-colonial and colonial governance and in African nationalism of the period.

In Kenya, women freedom fighters played a significant role in the push for self-rule and independence. Be it Mekatilili wa Menza from the Coast or the women Mau Mau fighters, Kenyan women fought hard for the independence of Kenya; and paid the price in the form of detention, loss of life and the destruction of the family unit. Although one or two women formed a part of the team that negotiated Kenya’s independence in Lancaster House conferences in 1960, 1962 and 1963, it would be literally 50 years before Kenyan women began to reap the benefits of gender equality in power and decision making.

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