Last week an article appeared in the Standard Newspaper in which the author Pravin Bowry wrote, “Gender equality amongst the emancipated women in Kenya and the world over is a mantra sung repeatedly. But in Kenya, there is under the Constitution — the National Gender and Equality Commission — yet there are disturbing indicators that women’s rights are only a myth.”
Last week’s assault of Nairobi Women’s Representative, Rachel Shebesh, by Nairobi Governor, Evans Kidero, was illustrative of this point. And this is not the first time a high level State Officer has assaulted a woman colleague nor is it an instance of a single isolated incident.
In June this year on the floor of the National Assembly during the debate on the one-laptop per-child project Suna West MP, Joseph Odege, shouted at female colleagues to shut up; and during the same session poured a glass of water on a fellow female MP and slapped MP Sarah Korore.
Last week, Senator Gideon Mbuvi (aka Mike Sonko) verbally assaulted radio personality Caroline Mutoko, during a radio programme to which he called in and then was unable to answer a question regarding sustainable solutions for those he represents.
That the prevalent public narrative around the assault of the Nairobi Women’s Representative by the Governor, seems to be the – ‘she must have done something to provoke him,’ or that, ‘she went too far’ or is ‘too aggressive’ narrative – is worrying as it speaks to society’s (men and women) acceptance violence as viable method to control female behaviour and justifies female subordination.
While all these incidences have been caught on one form or another of media and there is evidence to prove what happened in all cases there has been resounding silence from the government.
Kenya has several laws that prohibit violence against women i.e. the constitution and several international instruments that promote the rights of women and call for an end of violence against. The constitution also makes provision for equality, affirmative action and obligates the state to take measures to increase women’s participation in political leadership.
However the government’s silence on the incidence on violence carried out by state officials negates these laws and raises issues of accountability, and the government’s commitment to gender equality. The states ambivalence and inaction against its own officers will allow such violence to continue.
I could was lyrical about the National Assembly being the house that patriarchy built I won’t. It is however evident that structural and institutional change is needed to ensure women are recognized as equal citizens in line with the provisions of the constitution. In the meantime where is the National Gender and Equality Commission?