, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 8 – The first ever Gender Festival in Kenya has come and gone. It was held at the Nairobi Railway Club grounds from June 3 to 5 under the theme “Celebrate Diversity and Promote Gender Equality”.
Like many national, institutional and community events organised around women’s issues, the festival was put together on a shoe-string budget and the sheer determination of a consortium of participating civil society organizations working in the gender and human rights sectors.
Undeterred by the constant threat of being drenched under Nairobi’s current grey skies and a last minute hitch with the caterer pulling out of the event; the organisers, participants and exhibitors adapted themselves quickly to the art of improvisation and have promised themselves that this is all the more reason to look forward to the next gender festival.
The festival created an open forum for gender-focused groups, individuals, civil society organizations and institutions to reflect, share experiences and plan collectively. This was also a hub for networking on the numerous questions surrounding gender, equality, feminism and the intersections between these and existing power structures.
However the best expression of the festival was in the sub-themes whose emphasis on healing, peace-building, unity, movement building, diversity, culture and gender equality ensured that sessions were well attended and a good exchange of ideas and thought took place.
Women are a diverse group, and there is nothing new about this fact although it does tend to be forgotten or out rightly overlooked. However, local home-grown opportunities aimed at providing places and spaces for reflection and action on gender concepts have been few and far between.
The Kenya Gender Festival is modeled on the bi-annual Tanzania Gender Festival steered by the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) and FEMACT. According to TGNP executive director Usu Mallya, the Kenyan version was an opportunity for Tanzanian partners to re-learn and improve on their capacities for mobilising and organising meaningful participation.
Ms Mallya was particularly impressed at the efficient levels of coordination and cooperation among a diverse range of organisations to bring about the Kenya Gender Festival – despite funding constraints and a tight time-line for organising and mobilising resources. The Tanzanian version of the Gender Festival is centrally organised and coordinated from within the TGNP.
However, the challenge for Kenyan civil society organisations is to maintain the momentum, public interest and engagement among the diverse interests that speak to gender and development issues.
According to Hulda Ouma, a programme officer for gender at the Society for International Development (SID) Eastern Africa, the gender festival is a beginning and a spring-board of ideas to invigorate the women’s movement and the diversity of social transformation initiatives currently taking place in Kenya.
Over the past decade, international commitments to gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment have been reaffirmed at various UN conferences. Women all over the world are engaged in genuine struggles against all sorts of injustices. They include the struggle for education, the struggle against violence, the struggle to have their voices and their views heard in decision-making processes, health and reproductive rights, economic empowerment and in the workplace.