NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 8 – United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres Wednesday joined Kenyans as they commemorated the International Women’s Day (IWD) where President Uhuru Kenyatta enumerated the many strides that the country has achieved towards gender parity.
In a speech read on his behalf by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, he also reaffirmed the government’s zero-tolerance to any violence or discrimination against women and girls across the country.
The presence of the UN boss at the celebrations where he was recognised as a special guest symbolically underlined the pole position the global body places on women in the world.
President Kenyatta said the IWD was a special occasion the world over, to not only celebrate the gains made towards women empowerment, but to take stock of challenges and make renewed commitments toward gender parity.
He said no country can claim to be modern and progressive unless it recognises the importance of gender equality.
“Let me underscore that gender empowerment is important to any society that considers itself modern and progressive. But equally and more fundamental is the need to ensure the protection of the rights of women and girls” said President Kenyatta.
The celebrations were held at the Comesa Grounds, Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) and attended by African Union (AU) Commissioner for Social Affairs Mustapha Kaloko and hundreds of women from all walks of life.
Eminent Kenyan women (some of who were present) including Mama Ngina Kenyatta, Phoebe Asiyo, Prof Eddah Gachukia, Terry Kantai, Nobel Laureate the late Prof. Wangari Maathai, Justice Effie Owuor, Muthoni Likimani, Julia Ojiambo and Field Marshal Muthoni were all celebrated in a special way for their sacrifices and the huge impact they have made in Kenya.
President Kenyatta said Kenya has made remarkable progress in implementing global, regional as well as national commitments on gender equality and empowerment of women.
He said Kenya’s record on women is clearly elaborated in major continental frameworks like the Maputo Protocol which is the Bill of Rights for women in Africa, the AU solemn Declaration of Gender Equality in Africa and most recently Africa’s Agenda 2063- a development framework that aims to achieve a continent that is integrated, peaceful, prosperous and people-centred .
President Kenyatta said Kenya takes pride in the many achievements the country has made by investing in priority intervention that are of great benefit to its women.
He cited the Compulsory and Free Education programme that benefits both boys and girls and the progress in women’s health as evidenced by the Free Maternity Health services as some of the key gains towards gender parity.
Other achievements, said the president, include the affirmative initiatives that have culminated in more women accessing credit as well as more opportunities in government procurement and employment.
“Overall, we have made great strides towards women empowerment, some of which are a first on the continent. For example, in the area of peace and security, we have the first female Brigadier in Africa,” he said.
The president said the government will continue addressing structural barriers that hinder women’s advancement, recognize and act on women’s unpaid care burden and invest in their reproductive health services.
“We will continue to ensure women get equal chances in decision making and strive to end gender based violence”, he said adding that Kenya has adopted sound and robust legal policy framework that protect the rights of women and girls and provides the equality and non-discrimination as anchored in the Constitution.
He said these measures and interventions have contributed to the country’s progress in tackling harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation and also stipulated the minimum age of marriage to protect the girl child.
President Kenyatta said that the two initiatives launched at the celebrations-the AU campaign Ending Child Marriages in Africa and the joint Government of Kenya/UN programme on Gender Based Violence will ensure that Kenya does not witness again the sad incidents and harrowing experiences of FGM, Child marriages and gender sexual abuse that women and girls have had to endure.
The President said the government will continue investing in women and girls not only for its intrinsic value and as a basic human right, but because it is “the smart thing to do.”
“The empowerment of women has inter-generational benefits, including equity, social stability and human security and peace,” said President Kenyatta.
He asked all concerned agencies to take full advantage of the legislative and policy frameworks put in place by the government to empower and protect women.
The UN Secretary General, Kaloko and Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs also spoke during the commemorations.