Profiled as one of the youngest directors in the Kenyan civil society, Tabitha Njoroge is the Chief Executive Officer of Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) Kenya. Tabitha’s passion for women rights and emancipation began during her days of undergraduate studies while serving as a student leader in the students’ council (SONU) and in the Women Students Welfare Association (WOSWA) where she served as the Chairperson.
Hers was a journey of self discovery and capacity building that: opened great doors into international conferences and platforms within and without Kenya; brought out the true purpose of her life and in a very significant way defined her career line at a young age. With over 5 years experience in gender and human rights work now, Tabitha is a human rights trainer, researcher and advocate of the older women, young women and girls. She has a great passion for her work and for the young women particularly those in the colleges. She is very versatile, outgoing and does not believe in impossibilities.
Tabitha previously worked with Peace Tree Network – Africa as a Researcher and in January 2007 joined WiLDAF Kenya as a Program Assistant. She has since risen through the Program Officer level to her current position. Tabitha is an alumnus of the East Africa Uongozi Institute, Political Leadership Development Program and a fellow of the Sexuality Leadership and Development Fellowship. She is also the youngest member of the Africa Women Leaders Network for Reproductive Health and Family Planning (AWLN)
Q1. The women’s movement on gender equality and empowerment has been on the upward trend in Africa in recent times, what is WILDAF’s contribution to the trend?
WiLDAF has an Africa wide network in 36 countries and each of these have been very instrumental at both national and international levels with regard to women emancipation. WiLDAF has been successful in influencing the legal framework in several nations including Kenya, meaningful engagement of women in leadership and decision making and in addressing Sexual and Gender Based Violence. All of these have impacted very positively on the upward trend of the Africa women movement.
Q2. What do you consider as the gains made and the gaps that need to be addressed to improve the lives of women in Kenya and Africa?
The list is very long and particularly in the face of a new legal framework – the Constitution of Kenya 2010. These include:
1. The language in the entire constitution recognizes women.
2. Within the preamble the women are recognized as equals and they are given freedom. Democracy recognizes that the government of the land is of women and men, by women and men and for women and men.
3. All power belongs to women and men and they can give it to other institutions using this constitution.
4. The customary or any other law that differs from the constitution are made void. Therefore women gain protection from customs and other cultural norms that work against them.
5. By recognizing international laws women gain from the progress of other women who have influenced passing of progressive laws to support and protect women’s rights.
6. Outlawing governments established without following the constitution means that women must be given all the rights allowed in this constitution otherwise the government will not be legally constituted.
7. The women gain the right to participate in governance, equity, gender justice, the right to be included and protection from discrimination even when they are in minority groups.
Article 14 and 15
8. The women are full citizens of Kenya and therefore they can bestow citizenship to their foreign husbands and children born outside the country.
9. Women can retain their citizenship even when they marry foreigners and acquire another citizenship.
10. State organs and officers have a duty to address the needs of women among other groups.
11. Although abortion is not permitted, the trained health professionals are required not to risk the health or life of the mother.
12. Women gain equality in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.
13. Women will not be discriminated on grounds of sex, pregnancy, marital status, dress, disability or any other grounds.
14. The government will pass laws to ensure that at least 1/3 of members of elective or appointed bodies are women.
15. Women have the right not to be:
a. Deprived of freedom without just cause
b. Detained without trial unless there is a state emergency
c. Subject to any form of violence from anywhere.
d. Subjected to physical or psychological torture
e. Subjected to corporal punishment
f. Treated or punished a degrading manner.
17. Women have the right to own property anywhere in Kenya.
18. Women have a right to health care including reproductive health.
19. Adequate housing and sanitation
20. Freedom from hunger
21. Clean, safe and adequate water
22. Social security and
18. Women have the right to marry an adult of their choice.
19. The law will recognize marriages concluded under various systems.
20. Mothers and fathers have equal responsibilities to their children whether married to each other or not.
21. If detained, girls must be separated from other detainees.
22. Women with disabilities will be treated with dignity, have access to all places including educational facilities and enjoy sign language and Braille amongst other rights.
23. Young women will be protected from harmful cultural practices and exploitation.
24. Women from marginalized groups will enjoy affirmative action.
25. Elderly women will live in dignity and respect and be free from abuse.
26. Kenya National Human Rights and Equality Commission will ensure gender equality and equity.
27. Women are free to own land and property in land.
28. Widows and orphans’ interest in land will be protected.
29. Women will have the right to be respected by public officers who serve.
20. Not more than 2/3 of members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender. Therefore at least 1/3 will be women or vice versa.
31. Women with disability will enjoy fair representation.
32. Women will be free from violence, intimidation, improper influence or corruption during elections.
33. Women will be able to register as voters whenever they can spare the time.
34. Women can stand for elections as independent candidates: thus avoid political parties.
35. The control of the amount of money to be used for elections by candidates works for women who have limited resources in comparison with men.
36. The party list will include women
37. Political parties will respect and promote gender equality and equity.
38. A political party will not exclude women (or men).
39. Women will be protected from political violence
40. National Assembly will have 47 women elected in the 47 Counties.
41. Some women will be nominated to represent the youth, persons with disabilities and workers amongst other special interest groups.
42. Sixteen women will be nominated to the Senate
43. One woman representing the youth
44. One woman representing persons with disabilities.
45. Women will benefit from legislation to promote their representation in parliament.
46. Women will know the exact date of elections.
47. At least 3 women will sit in the Parliamentary Service Commission.
48. At least 3 women will sit in the Judicial Service Commission.
49. One of the functions of the Judicial Service Commission is to promote equality between women and men.
50. One of the objects of devolution is to protect and promote the interests and rights of women from minorities and marginalized communities.
51. Women will make at least 1/3 of members of representative bodies in each County Governments.
52. Women will get special seats to ensure at least 1/3 membership of the assembly.
53. Women will be afforded equal opportunities for appointment, training and advancement at all levels of the public services.
54. The Chair of a Commission and Independent Offices and the Vice Chair will not be of the same gender.
When it comes to challenges, the greatest of them all is the poor implementation of the policies and laws that advance the cause of women. Even for Kenya, the constitution was just the first phase and now we are on to implementation. It is until we have conquered this one that we shall speak of achieving full results.
Q3. As a young woman what do you consider as the constraints young women face and strategies that can be employed to enhance their voice in Africa on development and gender equality?
Some of the obvious reasons include:
- a) Lack of mentorship
- b) Forced marriages
- c) Female Genital Mutilation/Cut
- d) Illiteracy particularly in the rural areas
- e) Discriminative Socialization
- f) Unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions
Most of these can only be comprehensively addressed through formulation of laws and policies that will consciously protect the young women and girls. These must also be fully implemented and this comes with goodwill for the same by the Government of the day. On the other hand the older women must make a conscious decision to tell the stories of where they are coming from so that in passing on the baton the younger women will receive it from a point of understanding what the struggle for women emancipation means and why it is important to sustain the momentum. Otherwise, young women will continue to feel misplaced in the whole agenda and discourse around development and gender equality.
Q4. Sexual and reproductive health and rights issues are largely a taboo subject in many African settings, yet it holds the key to advancement of the gender agenda, do you think enough is being done to realize this right?
Efforts have been made by various stakeholders and governments to address this but a lot more needs to be done. There seems to be resistance to SRHR programming particularly because of the religious and cultural views held by majority of the people particularly those in decision making. On a minimum, every African country should embrace sexuality education in schools and this includes the development of a comprehensive Sexuality Education Curriculum.
Q5. Access to justice, ignorance of the law and economic empowerment remains a mirage for many women in Kenya what can be done to remedy the situation?
One of the main reasons behind this situation is the illiteracy among the women folk. Law as we know it can be quite complex particularly by reason of the jargon it is often packaged in. On the other hand, until recently, the girl child was forced to sacrifice their education for the benefit of their brothers and other male relatives particularly when school fee was not enough. Many ended up married while still minors with barely any education and exposure. The problem is so complex that some do not even know how to read and write. When presented with challenges that require legal intervention these women are fearful of the unknown and will many times shy off from the justice system. Other times they have a little education that is not enough to help them understand what it means to undertake the process. They prefer to consult the chiefs and local elders who many times are bribed by the offenders leaving the women desperate and frustrated. We must make a deliberate effort to educate women and girls on access to justice and the existing laws and policies that they can benefit from.
When it comes to economic empowerment, women largely do not have control over property and family wealth. Even when they toil so hard on farms, for instance, the income goes to the men. We are hopeful that with the new Constitution recognizing women as equal partners and with rights to ownership, this is going to change.
Q6. Kenya is preparing for elections and with a constitutional requirement of 1/3 gender rule on elective and appointive positions, how feasible is this? Do you think the government is committed to ensure women are more visible in political leadership and decision making?
I am from the school of thought that believes in testing before disapproval. As Kenyans, we all worked very hard to review, write and pass this very comprehensive Constitution. As women we worked even harder to secure what we still call ‘women gains’ and this provision is one of those. We have made proposals to various Government agencies and Constitutional Commissions on how this can be made viable but this being a patriarchal society, there hasn’t been goodwill and interest to implement any of these. Why can’t parliament give these proposals a chance and why is it so hard for them to make sense of affirmative action in elective politics? One of the main proposals has been to have some alternating women-candidates-only constituencies for a period of 20 years after which we will have exhausted the affirmative action threshold and revert to the norm. In my view, it is feasible and necessary that this be implemented as it is.
Q7. What is your take on the Decade of the African Woman?
I consider the idea of a Women’s Decade excellent and I am particularly impressed by the choice of theme ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Bottom up Approach. For a long time we have seen continental and global conferences held to discuss gender equality and women empowerment where commitments and calls to action are drafted and even endorsed. The spirit of the decade is to ensure that these commitments are implemented particularly those made in Dakar, Beijing and the AU Assembly. As I sat in KICC during the launch of this Women’s Decade, I was excited at the idea and very expectant that really this would be the end of the long wait for the women of Africa. I remain hopeful that the projects that will continue to be picked by the national committees set up to steer the Women’s Decade will be strategic enough realize the intended mission. As at now, I feel a lot more needs to be done and it almost feels like we forgot to sustain the “Women Decade’ discourse in the public space.
Q8. What drives and inspires you to work for women’s human rights in Africa and what is your vision for African women in the next 20 years?
Mine is a passion that I discovered within me during my undergraduate studies at the University of Nairobi. It was sparked by the challenging and often unfair environment I saw campus girls survive in. I derive so much joy from the smile of a once bitter, battered, neglected woman. For women and girls I will readily give my time and resources to add even just a little value to their lives. I believe there is a better life for women and until they all live it, I will remain dedicated to this cause.
In the next 20 years I want to see a female led Africa with majority of presidents, law makers and business moguls being women.
Women in Law and Development in Africa (K)
P.O. Box 57539 - 00200, Nairobi. Kenya
Tel: +254 20 2729877/8
Mobile: +254 721 863312
Please click here to read our past interview