Last Updated on: 15th July 2023, 01:35 am
Nairobi, July 10, 2023: Mary Wandia Wanjiru, is a gender activist of long standing and has lately taken up nurturing and mentoring the next generation of young women rights activists who will stand up for the rights of women and girls everywhere in Africa.
Wandia, now the Director of Programs at Co-Impact (a former staff at FEMNET), has also transited to the philanthropic space) and has been working on the Maputo Protocol for the last 23 years. She had a chat with our Correspondent Clifford Akumu on the sidelines of the 3rd African Girls and Young Women Festival organised by FEMNET in Nairobi, Kenya.
The chat interrogates the benefits the Maputo Protocol has brought to women and girls in Kenya and the gaps that need to be addressed.
In 2005, the Maputo Protocol went into effect, two years after the African Union adopted it in Maputo, Mozambique. What is Kenya’s story looking like?
Wanjiru: In Kenya, what we are having is a mixed picture. We have made progress in the 2010 Constitution and women are now recognised as citizens of this country. Various rights for women have been recognised including the right to health; leave free of violence, and to participate in decision-making.
Why are we still struggling with the issue of the two-thirds gender rule implementation in Kenya, regime after regime?
Wanjiru: There is a big challenge when it comes to the implementation of our constitution just like what is ailing the Maputo Protocol at the regional level. Since 2010, why are we not seeing the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule by previous regimes? This only tells us that there is no political will, by now we should have in all positions of leadership, decision-making, and politics, we should be a minimum of 30 per cent women. Even getting that 30 per cent is a great problem in Kenya, yet it’s anchored in the Constitution and the AU has even raised the bar to 50 per cent.
How will the picture look like with the full implementation of these instruments that harness the rights of women and girls?
Wanjiru: If we implement the Constitution, women own land, participate in all levels of decision making and who knows what will become out of our participation in these spaces? For example, we have already seen the fruits; with the increase in participation of women in parliament in the last fifteen years, we have seen a sexual offense act being passed, an anti-FGM law passed, and a lot of improvement in prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence while protecting the survivors.
Until women are on the table, we have not advanced as a country and it undermines the development of everybody.
How then can we achieve the two-thirds gender rule in Kenya?
Wanjiru: If there is political will, we would then see the two-thirds implemented. Because the bone of contention has been; what are the formulas? Various formulas have come in on how we can achieve the two-thirds gender rule in parliament and people always say you can’t change within an existing parliament.
But we have seen several elections, which means if there is political will, we can simply agree, and then by the next election we just implement. We can go back and amend the constitution so that it’s clear, then we enforce it!
Has Kenya put more effort into gender budgeting while making its policies and what model can work to boost the full realization of gender budgeting?
Wanjiru: On gender budgeting especially, in light of the current Finance Bill I don’t even think we are conscious of the impact on citizens, and especially on women. When you budget and plan with a gender lens is that you are always conscious that when you take this action how it is impacting the excluded groups.
The policymakers need to ask themselves, are we lifting people out of poverty or pushing more people into poverty? When you increase the taxation of fuel, VAT (the most retrogressive tax in the world)are you thinking about the impact on excluded groups?
For me, Kenya is nowhere near gender budgeting! Because we are not even thinking are we investing in those sectors that are going to spur the development that will see more people out of poverty? We are still seeing more money being put into increments of salaries for our politicians, and ministries that are not related to gender issues. If we want to see change, we must invest and ensure that each government ministry is investing in ways that are going to impact millions.
What does the future look like for African women and girls regarding the Maputo Protocol?
Wanjiru: It has taken us twenty years to get where we are today where 44 countries have ratified the protocol. But we know that the protocol is yet to lift the lives of women and girls on this continent. And so that is the future where we want to get to, where we get universal ratification.
And once we get the universal ratification, we want to see that protocol translated into policies, programs, and services for African women and girls because that is when we will have a significant and sustainable change in the lives of women and girls. As it is currently, it remains largely on paper.
And it is the young women who will help us realize those dreams where this protocol will translate into those significant changes that women can own land, are protected from sexual violence, enjoy their sexual and reproductive health rights and access services, able to go to court and have their rights protected, enjoy citizenship of this continent.
Women leaders across the continent are calling for the domestication and implementation of the Maputo Protocol. How can Kenya achieve this?
Wanjiru: The best approach to the implementation of the Protocol is to first appreciate that it’s ratified by the government. It means when it comes to implementation, each ministry is aware of that protocol, what are they going to implement? So that what is the Ministry of Health going to do to ensure that women and girls are accessing sexual and reproductive health services, what is the Ministry of Education going to do to ensure that girls are accessing education? And as they do that, how do they make sure they address the obstacles to girls’ education like FGM and child marriage?
We need to look at the Protocol on a multi-sectoral approach and then implement it in a multi-sectoral way that is the only way we will be able to implement it comprehensively. But right now it seems that it’s taken to be the work of the Ministry of Gender! This Protocol cuts across sectors.
How can young girls take the leadership mantle and be on the decision-making table?
Wanjiru: It is quite reminiscing to come back and tell the African girls about the work that I started doing at a younger age. I had just graduated when I started working on the Protocol. Young women need to know that they are the future. And we need to hand over the baton to them. But for them to appreciate their responsibility, we need to tell them the story to be able to appreciate the efforts that have been made to see the Maputo protocol where it is today
I have now shifted into the philanthropic space. But we need the energy and innovation of the young people to come and take over what we did to higher ground. The inter-generational dialogue is vital in making the young generation understand where we are coming from as African women. These will enable them to know that we still have many more struggles to fight, and more gains to add so that all African women and girls are liberated.