WILPF is happy to introduce the newest addition to the family – the WILPF Kenya National Group.
Located in East Africa, the Republic of Kenya is a vast country inhabited by more than 48 million people. Kenya has seen some important community-led peacebuilding efforts, but it has also suffered some severe large-scale human rights violations. In 2017, the general election was annulled by Kenya’s supreme court due to irregularities, which plunged the country into deep political instability. In this environment, many human rights violations occurred that disproportionally affected women.
Worse, the numerous rights violation cases that occurred, which included torture and rape, remain unpunished. Indeed, no national commission has been created. Currently, these wrongdoings have gone unacknowledged, and neither state nor non-state actors have been held accountable.
The members of the WILPF Kenya Group come from diverse backgrounds and have been active in civil society and human rights advocacy prior to joining the WILPF family. Given the current women’s rights situation in the country, they intend to increase cooperation with grassroots actors and raise awareness of and support solutions to problems affecting women.
We spoke with the Group about their motivations to join WILPF and their plans for the future.
What were your main motivations to become part of WILPF?
The need to establish a platform for enhancing dialogue amongst women about women’s issues is the main purpose why we choose to be part of WILPF. Women in Kenya have over the years managed to gain tremendous strides in the path to gender equality. To put this into perspective, in 2010 the Constitution of Kenya for the first time included provision for economic, social and cultural rights of women in the country: Articles 27 and 81(b). This guaranteed women freedoms, non-discrimination and equal rights.
In this hallmark document, Kenyan women gained constitutional backing to accessing land, power and economic resources. However, Kenyan women still experience daily struggles that exposes us to a legion of pervasive socio-cultural norms that still deprive women of their agency in their homes, work places and society at large. Being a part of WILPF means that we get an opportunity to address these issues at a grassroots level within a global network of like-minded individuals. Thus, being a part of WILPF is a strategic opportunity to working towards gradually improving the status of women in Kenya.
What do you see as the main distinctive feature of the WILPF Kenya Group in the Kenyan civil society landscape?
The Kenyan civil society landscape is robust and has played a critical role in the protection of the rights of the citizens and upholding of the rule of law. Whereas this has been critical in establishing the State is kept in check, it now poses the risk of focusing on the civil society and the state, leaving the Kenyan citizen as a third party.
Our approach is to highlight community participation using appropriate innovative Communications for Development (C4D) as a means to achieving peace and freedom. We believe an informed woman is an empowered woman. Yet in the face of violation, most women in Kenya are not fully aware of their rights, or even available means to accessing safe spaces. Giving women at the bottom of the pyramid access to knowledge on their rights and freedoms in accessible, sustainable and innovative ways, and by using words that are relatable enables them to make better decisions and perhaps even positively challenge their own belief systems. In turn fostering a voice for Kenyan women at all levels of society to be creators and owners of the social change that they envision for themselves. Most importantly, we see the WILPF integrated approach as an important tool to employ creating lasting peace for women in Kenya.
Have your members been involved as activists in other social movements before forming the National Group?
The WILPF Kenya Group is made up of a diverse lot of members who represent a myriad of interests yet have a common passion for women emancipation in Kenya. Our Secretary Dr Lydia Atambo is a public health specialist and is an advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SHRH). She focuses her research on low income women’s accessibility to health services and analyses the link between freedom and health.
Our other members have been involved in the social innovation movements and human rights advocacy at both national and international levels. All these expertise is proving quite beneficial in making us achieve our mandate which is to champion women’s freedoms and rights in Kenya in all sectors and levels of society.
How is the current political climate regarding human rights and women’s rights in particular?
Kenya holds its General elections every 5 years. In the 2017 general elections, however, the nation went to the polls twice in the same year. This was as a result of the annulment of the August 8th Presidential results by the Supreme Court citing irregularities and ordering a new poll, 60 days later that year in October 23rd. While this judicial declaration was a first of its kind in the history of Africa, it was the third consecutive time since 2007 where sexual violence was markedly employed as a tool of torture by state and non-state actors. Whereas cases of men’s experience of sexual assault were reported, women too bore the brunt of this tirade yet no national commission has been set to demand for accountability and acknowledge wrongdoing by the state and other members of society on vulnerable members of society.
Additionally, the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) is another major contributor to the state of insecurity in both rural and urban centres in Kenya.
With the 2010 inauguration of the constitution, devolution has been noted to have a major impact in people’s lives. Devolution has progressively weakened the patronage basis of development in the country. However, some emergent issues include land-related conflict and challenges on accountability in the equitable distribution of resources and its use thereof. WILPF Kenya Group sees this as an opportunity to make a contribution using WILPF’s integrated approach to fostering lasting peace at both the national and grassroots level. Thus, moving towards a coherent and practical system where violence does not become the preferred means of conflict resolution.
Kenya has seen some successful cases of community-led conflict resolution and peacebuilding. How do you see the WILPF Kenya Group in relation to this?
Indeed, community led conflict resolution and peacebuilding initiatives have managed to positively impact society. WILPF Kenya Group purposes to form broad based partnerships with media, national level mediators and local communities to develop innovative initiatives to buttress Conflict Early Warning and Response systems and platforms.
For WILPF Kenya Group, playing a leading role in implementing Kenya’s vision 2030 is a key objective. Within its social pillar, the Vision 2030 recognises the need to strengthening conflict management, security and peacebuilding due to its linkages with economic development. As such for WILPF Kenya Group, partnering with national bodies to strengthen local capacities in areas of conflict management, peacebuilding & reconstruction are key pathways to ensuring lasting peace for women in Kenya.
What are the main objectives and aspirations of the WILPF Kenya Group for 2018?
We have three main objectives. The first is to develop a learning organisational culture. This is important for us that we focus on this strategy from our 1st year in the WILPF community. We believe this will help us establish our internal frameworks that guide our external practices. The vision is to continuously empower WILPF Kenya Group members to effect holistic gradual long-term social change in the lives of women in Kenya. Another main objective is to develop a communication strategy that guides WILPF Kenya in its operations. Additionally, we are working towards rolling out a dialogue platform in Kenya that captures the stories of women and allows them to share their experiences. We see communication as a major instrument for empowering women in Kenya to speak out for peace and freedom. More exciting still, we are looking forward to attending our first Congress in Accra, Ghana. It will be an amazing experience to meet and share with sisters & members from across the WILPF community.
What do you think are the main challenges that the WILPF Kenya Group will face in its work?
Establishing WILPF presence in Kenya might get off to a strenuous start, however we are optimistic that with all the support from the WILPF community we shall be able to engage all the critical stakeholders to effect peace. Civic education and engagement is a key mission of the Group and through this we believe we shall be able to reinforce trust and accountability at the national and community level. WILPF Sweden is already giving us tremendous support and this gives us confidence that we are in the right league.
How can support and coordination with the rest of the WILPF community help you in achieving your objectives?
As one of the newest Groups in the WILPF community, support and coordination ensures that you gain some institutional history that other sections have memory of (be it nuanced or well-articulated). However, our experience with the WILPF community thus far has been characterised with such genuine open dialogue that it has made this transition into the community extremely uplifting. Additional support by way of expert advice (WILPF Sweden, WILPF Nigeria and the sisters at large), notifications on funding opportunities & sharing best practices/experiences goes a long way into helping WILPF to make innovative and useful contribution to the development of Kenya’s human rights, peace and governance sector.