An Africa For Women And Girls, The Price Of Inclusion

 Students of Karumaine Primary School Nairobi testing the newly launched tablets by the Government of Kenya.

Students of Karumaine Primary School Nairobi testing the newly launched tablets by the Government of Kenya.

They say that opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor, but for the past decades in Africa, young women and girls have not been allowed to step on the dance floor itself, let alone dance. It is only in recent times that we have been able to see a paradigm shift, where women and girls have been invited to the table to be part of the discussions, or rather to be able to dance to the tune of decision making in top leadership, education and employment as well as social and economic opportunities, together with the men.

During his trip to the Republic of Kenya in 2015, the President of the United States of America Barrack Obama stated that;

"There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century. These are issues of right and wrong -- in any culture. But they’re also issues of success and failure. Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women and allowing them to maximize their potential is doomed to fall behind in a global economy."

While over time it is good to appreciate the ways that we’ve continued to work in eliminating these challenges, it’s worth reflecting on the path that we have forged as a continent and the long way that we still have to go.

Today, women, and especially young women are central to every aspect of the African continents’ development work – from production of the continent’s food where it is reported that women make up 80% of the food producers in some African nations, according to an ILO Report dubbed ‘Women Work More, But are Still Paid Less’ ILO/95/22, education, health, employment and participation in economic, social and political life.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Report, the statistics on women in parliament places 4 African Countries in the top 10 number of countries with high percentage of women representation in Parliament. They are Rwanda with 63.8%, Seychelles with 43.8%, Senegal with 42.7% and South Africa with 41.9%. The report also reveals that there are now only two countries in the world with more women than men in parliament, one of them being Rwanda which is still an African country.

With the above statistics, the public’s perception of women’s role in government and public service has also shifted where more young women in Africa are taking part in political and government leadership. Examples include Proscovia Alengot Oromait, Africa’s youngest ever elected Member of Parliament (MP) who was elected (MP) for Usuk County, Katakwi District at 19 years of age in September 2012; Claire Akamanzi from Rwanda who became the Chief Operating Officer, Rwanda Development Board at 32; Lindiwe Mazibuko, who at 33 years of age was a Parliamentary Leader for the Democratic Alliance (MP for North Durban); Hon. Angellah Mbelwa Kairuki who became a Member of Parliament with the at age 32 in Tanzania; Fatima-Zahra Mansouri who at age 38, is the Mayor of Marrakech, the third largest city in Morocco with a population of more than 1 million people and; Naisula Lesuuda who at 30 years old became the youngest female member of the Senate, the upper house of the Parliament of Kenya.

This examples provides a chance to reflect on the progress achieved and the challenges that remain for young women in political spaces who are and want to work in leadership of the continent. As enshrined in Article 11 (1) of the African Youth Charter, Every young person shall have the right to participate in all spheres of society and (2) (a), State parties shall guarantee the participation of youth in Parliament and other- decision making bodies in accordance with prescribed laws. Further, the same Article, 11 (c), requires State parties to ensure equal access to young men and women to participate in decision-making and in fulfilling civic duties. Of course, even as we strive to protect the rights and dignity of women and to promote diversity and equality within our own countries, we still have a long way to go in ensuring that young women are included at all levels of decision making and are able to claim their rights as well.

Legislation is a key driver of female representation in Africa. Article 12(f) of the African Youth Charter requires all state parties to develop a comprehensive and coherent National Youth Policy that shall advocate equal opportunities for young men and for young women. Drawing from the Rwanda experience which is by far the best performer of women representation in Parliament in the world with 64 women (to 36 men) in parliament, their performance is enabled by a law stipulating that 30% of all parliamentary seats should be held by women. Another example is South Africa, where the African National Congress upped its quota of women in government from 30% to 50% in 2009.

The struggle for gender equality and inclusion of women and young girls in social, economic and political levels in Africa is clear that our journey towards full equality is far from over. Despite the real and undeniable gains that women have made, the continent has more work to do. Our problems will not be solved overnight, and our challenges will not be fixed by laws and policies alone.

Upholding and protecting the rights of young women and girls to work in, and contribute to all aspects of their countries is still something that can be achieved. If the African Nations commit to supporting, protecting and empowering young women and girls to work, our countries will flourish. As one of our founding fathers clearly put it, it always seems impossible until it is done. – Nelson Mandela.

YOUNG FEMINISTS BLOG SERIES ON #WhatWomenWant

We hear from Five Young Latin American & Caribbean Feminists on what it would take to End AIDS.

HASHTAGS: #HLM2016AIDS #WhatWomenWant #YAFDialogues #SRHRDialogues #EndingAIDS #WeAreTheEpidemic #TheAfricaWeWant

#WhatWomenWant campaign is a collaborative effort launched by the ATHENA Network. The Campaign aims to engage activists and advocates in women’s civil society & feminist organizations to contribute towards renewed leadership and drive momentum toward realizing the vision, priorities and rights of women and girls in all of their diversity and to end HIV as a public health emergency. The objective of #WhatWomenWant is to utilize the political moment at hand presented by the newly adopted SDGs and the upcoming High Level Meeting on AIDS to ensure that women’s priorities for HIV prevention; freedom from violence, an end to GBV and sexual and reproductive health and rights are amplified and reflected in the Political Declaration to be produced at the High Level Meeting. ATHENA and partners aims for this global virtual conversation to place women and girls squarely at the center of all agendas, to provide a platform for operationalizing gender equality in the HIV movement and outside of it, and to catalyze cross-movement dialogue and action toward what truly works for women and girls in their diversity.

1. What do you see as the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls and what are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services?  

Gaps in the HIV response stem from the lack of engagement with the multiple underlying determinants for women’s, children and adolescents health. We cannot shy away from addressing poverty, structural gender inequality and distribution of power if we want to tackle the gaps. We need to acknowledge the fact that improving health requires actions well outside the health sector, through a multi-sectoral approach. Health programs that perpetuate these gaps and fail to incorporate an intersectional analysis that considers the diversity of experiences women face are not likely to achieve the desired results. This is an important and much needed advance in ensuring that we recognize and measure the correlation between health and the experiences of people in different areas of their lives. These correlations are complex, intersecting and vast, but absolutely essential to bridge the gaps- Lucia Berro, Uruguay

2. What effective strategies have worked in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms? What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?

In Mexico more than 900,000 women and girls have been killed violently from 2010 to 2016. This places my country, along with 9 other Latin American countries, among the 25 countries with the highest rate of femicides. We have had several campaigns launched by the federal government addressing gender based violence that provide hotlines with medical and psychological help but ultimately, I do believe that the only way to tackle GBV is to address gender stereotypes and challenge gender roles, which is the only real way to tackle the machismo culture that permeates this country and enables men to feel that they "own" women, and women's bodies- Marisol Ruiz, Mexico

3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality?

Young women like me need to be supported to overcome the barriers that get in the way of our participation and our leadership. To support us, first, we need to acknowledge the gender imbalances that exist in positions of decision-making and power across the various spheres that we operate in. Without specifically calling out the imbalances and the reasons for why they exist, we cannot address these imbalances. Second, we need to create spaces for us to build our capacity as leaders and exercise our leadership abilities in the spheres that we don’t normally operate in. Third, we need to recognize that for young women to step into leadership roles, others need to step back and share the power they hold. This is often the hardest part because it requires assessing and shifting the power dynamics- Ana Aguilera, Mexico.

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response?

We need a feminist HIV response to meet the needs of girls and young women. This is because they are the ones most affected by HIV. We need a response that can address gender inequalities as a major barrier, and can involve women and girls in all their diversity. A feminist response implies that we are aware of the structural causes of HIV transmission, it puts on the table the intersections and the risk of contracting HIV, it's not the same to experience risk as a black woman, or indigenous, or a woman living with disability, the same for access to prevention and treatment. The HIV response movement should not be afraid to identify as feminist - Genesis Luigi, Venezuela.

5. The world will meet in June at the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016. What is one of thing you would like to see come out of this meeting? (Especially that it happens after adoption of SDGs)

Just recently, in Guyana, the Minister of Public Health disclosed that there are approximately 8000 people infected with HIV and that there are 500 new cases. It is with hope that there will be a more robust approach to eliminate HIV/AIDS altogether and for much emphasis to be placed on the role of young people in combating HIV and protecting themselves. Also, I am keen to follow on the approach and how the issue of gender equality and equal access to SRH services will be addressed/ executed- Chelsie France, Guyana.

YOUNG FEMINISTS BLOG SERIES ON #WhatWomenWant

#WhatWomenWant campaign is a collaborative effort launched by the ATHENA network. The Campaign aims to engage activists and advocates in women’s civil society & feminist organizations to contribute towards renewed leadership and drive momentum toward realizing the vision, priorities and rights of women and girls in all of their diversity and to end HIV as a public health emergency. The objective of #WhatWomenWant is to utilize the political moment at hand presented by the newly adopted SDGs and the upcoming High Level Meeting on AIDS to ensure that women’s priorities for HIV prevention; freedom from violence, an end to GBV and sexual and reproductive health and rights are amplified and reflected in the Political Declaration to be produced at the High Level Meeting. ATHENA and partners aims for this global virtual conversation to place women and girls squarely at the center of all agendas, to provide a platform for operationalizing gender equality in the HIV movement and outside of it, and to catalyze cross-movement dialogue and action toward what truly works for women and girls in their diversity.

Meet young feminist Zemdena Abebe from Ethiopia.

1. What do you see as the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls and what are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services? 

The HIV and AIDS response is completely out of the touch with the reality of the group. The approaches are elitist and the terminology used in various campaigns and advocacy work is full of 'big words' that have no meaning whatsoever in the public landscape. The other barrier is the very sexist anti-women or misogynistic approach towards women living with HIV. Women are expected not to be sexual - that is having sex for the very purpose of pleasure. In most cases, they do not have a say in how, where and when secular intercourse takes place. Women are prone to HIV because they are exposed to various forms of sexual abuse. The other major factor is that women access HIV/SRHR infomation from men. For example, I know a lot of women who didn't know they could contract HIV if the man pulls out before an orgasm, because that's what the men they were sleeping with told them. Perhaps the men in these relationships know that women are more exposed to contracting HIV than men so they manipulate the women. The other gap is the information given to women is not detailed and is usually focused on shaming and blaming women. For instance in a shy and very conservative society like Ethiopia, it's unlikely that women are told that they could contract HIV through anal sex and the response to HIV has generally channelled a very reductionist narrative. Women with HIV became dehumanized and minimized to a disease. The enablers could be the various indicators that community movements have achieved.

 2. What effective strategies have worked in your community to prevents and address GBV in all its forms? What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?  

The strategies that are working are the constant community engagement, various online and offline discussions and education. In particular, grassroots community movements, various publications and activism have been able to frame some of women's concerns in a meaningful manner. The most important thing lies in acquiring power. We need African intersectional feminist in various spaces be it in the civic, public and entrepreneurial domain. There needs to be a shift in a community oriented government as opposed to an office caricature.

3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality?

First and foremost, there needs to an absolute shift in the society's mind-set and the social conditioning that is as a result of years of brainwash. Breaking structural barriers makes the world a better place for all of us who inhabit it. I strongly believe that it's women that can change the years and years of injustices that women face. It is through sisterhood and unity of womanhood that structures of oppression can ultimately be dismantled. We should not expect those who oppress and befit from our oppression to be the major players in our liberation. The most important thing to do to support young women is to give them the space and resources to be their best selves; infact to protect the rights of young women is to afford them a way to make make the progress towards gender freedom.

 4. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response?

Feminism is a movement that works to end sexist injustice and oppression. HIV is a disease that affects women more than men because of the very patriarchal sexual relationships - moreover the response to HIV has a huge classist and sexist approach. Any attempt to effectively respond to HIV should obviously centre on women's safety and needs. An intersectional feminist response to HIV will save the lives of many women.

 5. The world will meet in June at the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016. What is one of things you would like to see come out of this meeting, especially that it happens after adoption of SDGs?

I hope it will not be another meeting whereby people will mingle, travel, dine and wine. First and foremost I hope the meeting is not one of the usual meetings whereby the usual elite meet and say a bunch of big words. I hope it includes the women affected by HIV and help them channel their voices, concerns and ways forward. My expectation is for it to be as inclusive as possible and a meeting that holds it’s self-accountable on the goals it set out to achieve.

#WhatWomenWant is to be included in the various process set out bring about change.

#WhatWomenWant is not a bunch of suit wearing, high level performers.

#WhatWomenWant is to be seen as human first and foremost!

#WhatWomenWant is to claim their space without the fear of being killed.

#WhatWomenWant is to be independent.

#WhatWomenWant is to own our bodies.

#WhatWomenWant is to stop crying.

YOUNG FEMINISTS BLOG SERIES ON #WhatWomenWant

Meet young feminist Josephine Varghesa from India. 

1. What do you see as the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls and what are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services?

The main barrier in accessing HIV/SRHR services in my community continues to be the taboo surrounding discussing sexual activity and sexual health, especially outside the context of marriage. The seemingly unbreakable link between ‘family pride’ and sexual ‘purity’ of its woman folk make it difficult for women and girls to discuss and access information and services related to sexual and reproductive health. Comprehensive sex education that is sex-positive and inclusive of gender and sexuality minorities is a necessity to bridge this gap. Social stigma and criminalization of sex work still act as barriers for this highly vulnerable group from accessing HIV and SRHR services. It is also important to mention the commendable efforts made by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and NGOs associated in drastically reducing the percentage of new incidences in India and providing access to treatment (ART- anti-retroviral treatment) and preventive measures.

2. What effective strategies have worked in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & what laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV; and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?


While policies and legislative changes are necessary to curb the violation of fundamental human rights of women (right against violence, right to a life of dignity, right to bodily integrity), what seems lacking in my community is a revolutionary change in the patriarchal mindset of the common person- regardless of their gender. Patriarchy is overarching, and encompasses not only men, but all people. Ongoing critical self-introspection of actions, perspectives and values we take for granted is essential to do away with oppressive patriarchy.

A great deal of awareness around violence against women was created during the popular protests in the wake of the Delhi gang rape a few years ago. Yet it seems like the majority of the protests focused on punishment rather than socio-economic change that would prevent GBV. The delay in completion of trials along with falling conviction rates seen in rape cases stand as testimony to the fact that reforms in the judiciary are long overdue. A revision of colonial-era laws in the global south is also called for. It is to be remembered that these laws were formulated in a hetero-normative and patriarchal western context that was alien to cultural and historical contexts of the colonized cultures. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes any sexual activity outside penile-vaginal intercourse is an example for this. Another area that needs urgent reform is marital rape, which is still not criminalized in India.  

3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality?
Access to education and fundamental services is the first step in this direction. In India, the ‘right to education act’ along with supportive schemes for education of girl children are steps in the right direction. In schools, the curriculum needs to be revised from a feminist perspective to do away with patriarchal values that invisibly seep through the stories and lessons children learn from an early age. For these aims to be realized, advocacy at all levels is essential. Civil society movements that use the power and reach of channels available to them (for instance, in today’s world, social media) to press society & governments for change is what brought us thus far. These movements need to be strengthened and continued.

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response?

Any comprehensive and effective HIV response needs to question patriarchal, hetero-normative values and norms. It has to

●       Be sensitive and supportive of the needs and rights of gender and sexual minorities

●       Fight against oppressive patriarchal norms such as slut shaming, taboo against premarital sexual activity and the over-emphasis on female virginity, enabling girls and women to discuss sexuality more openly.

●       Support rights of sex workers and marginalized communities

Only an intersectional feminist response can meaningfully fulfill these fundamental conditions.

5. The world will meet in June at the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016, what is one of things you would like to see come out of this meeting, especially that it happens after adoption of SDGs?

My fundamental concern regarding the fight against AIDS is access. Sexual and reproductive health should be understood as a universal fundamental right and leaders of the world should resolve to provide it to the remotest of settlements and the most marginalized of communities. HIV test should be accessible to all, and ideally made part of routine tests at primary health centers.

YOUNG FEMINISTS BLOG SERIES ON #WhatWomenWant

Meet young feminist Marisol Ruiz Celorio from Mexico.

1. What do you see as the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls and what are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services? 

The HIV response needs to reach a wider number of women and girls and increase access to both HIV and SRH services as well as optimize existing healthcare infrastructure in settings where resources are scarce; above all, I believe it is fundamental to work on the reduction of stigma surrounding HIV and increase the availability and accessibility of comprehensive SRH services for women and girls living with HIV that are youth friendly, confidential and free of stigma. 

2. What effective strategies have worked in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & what laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV; and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?  

In Mexico more than 900,000 women and girls have been killed violently from 2010 to 2016. This places my country, along with 9 other Latin American countries, among the 25 countries with the highest rate of femicides. We have had several campaigns launched by the federal government addressing gender based violence that provide hotlines with medical and psychological help but ultimately, I do believe that the only way to tackle GBV is to address gender stereotypes and challenge gender roles, which is the only real way to tackle the machismo culture that permeates this country and enables men to feel that they "own" women, and women's bodies.

3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality?

I believe that young women can be supported by allowing them to participate in spaces that are traditionally dominated by older men, and older women. If we get our message out to a wider audience we can probably start making progress towards gender equality, we also need to work with our governments to try to influence the education system in our country and teach kids of all ages about gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes within the educational curricula.

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response?

I believe that all responses related to public health issues should implement from an intersectional feminist approach. When talking about an HIV response this is particularly important because we need to place at the front and center the rights of those living with HIV, specially their right to pleasure, to stigma-free services and to user friendly information. The feminist HIV response would also recognize that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity, and that race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity are all elements that impact the ways in which individuals living with HIV have to deal with and navigate through their HIV status.

5. The world will meet in June at the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016, what is one of things you would like to see come out of this meeting, especially that it happens after adoption of SDGs?

I would like to see a real commitment from the governments in response to the goal that they've set on eliminating stigma and discrimination, eliminating gender inequality and the increase of access to treatment without any kind of discrimination. More importantly I would like governments to address the goals that they have set with a sex-positive approach, recognizing that individuals living with HIV have the right to a pleasurable and healthy sex life. The recognition of sexual rights within the context of the SDGs in this High Level meeting should be one of the main outcomes.

YOUNG FEMINISTS BLOG SERIES ON #WhatWomenWant

Meet young feminist, Lucia Berro from Uruguay

1. What are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services?

Gaps in the HIV response stem from the lack of engagement with the multiple underlying determinants for women’s, children and adolescents health. We cannot shy away from addressing poverty, structural gender inequality and distribution of power if we want to tackle the gaps. We need to acknowledge the fact that improving health requires actions well outside the health sector, through a multi-sectoral approach. Health programs that perpetuate these gaps and fail to incorporate an intersectional analysis that considers the diversity of experiences women face are not likely to achieve the desired results. This is an important and much needed advance in ensuring that we recognize and measure the correlation between health and the experiences of people in different areas of their lives. These correlations are complex, intersecting and vast, but absolutely essential to bridge the gaps.

2. What effective strategies have worked in your community to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & what laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV; and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?

While it is true that the public health crises triggered by the Zika virus or the refugee crisis—among others—pose new challenges to the enjoyment of Human Rights and demand rapid responses, it is also giving us the opportunity to re-imagine new ways to uphold these human rights and redesign our plans to meet their specific needs. We need to make sure that our responses to these challenges are not just emergency responses, but are also radical—tackling the root causes of these issues and addressing them in an integral manner. I believe there is no better way to do this than working on strategies that are grounded on human rights and have women, girls and adolescents at its center; strategies that take into account more than the cost-benefit of the policies or that have women as vehicles for economic growth.

3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality?

Young women need to remind themselves that we are absolutely powerful. We are much more than a “vulnerable group” but to be effective we need to access information and education. I believe that young women need to advocate for an HIV response that guarantees the effective enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights. For that we need education, including comprehensive sexuality education. Educating young women benefits us all: it is a goal in itself and contributes substantially to the achievement of the development agenda. Moreover, quality education means much more than just reading and writing. A critical aspect of supporting young women to break barriers is to educate making sure that we are aware of our rights and are able to make our own decisions about our bodies, our health, and our relationships.

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response?

We need a feminist response because feminism challenges the things we take for granted. Feminism not only looks for answers for the questions, but it’s redefining the way we ask those questions. This response will incorporate the unavoidable gender-specifics concerns: from our ability to negotiate sex—and even more safe sex—to the enabling social, political and economic environments that disproportionately affect women and girls.

5. The world will meet in June at the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016, what is one of things you would like to see come out of this meeting, especially that it happens after adoption of SDG's?

We need the international community and the national governments to ensure meaningful participation. We need to have women; children and adolescents directly involved in the decision-making process and ensure that the process is transparent. I want to see strategies that address structural inequalities, from the global arena to our private lives. I would like to see a strategy that reflects and amplifies people voices, choices and control over their own bodies.

YOUNG FEMINISTS BLOG SERIES ON #WhatWomenWant

Meet Melissa Fairey, a young feminist from Canada.

 

1. What do you see as the current gaps in the HIV response for women and girls and what are key barriers and enablers to accessing HIV/SRHR services?

The current gap in the HIV response for women and girls is education. One of the growing populations being infected by HIV/AIDS in Canadian regions are girls aged 13-19. A key barrier is a lack of education and awareness on safe sex practices. Another key barrier is the rates of infection in lower income and rural areas. This demonstrates that HIV awareness and overall sexual health comprehension is affected by socioeconomic barriers and poverty disproportionately.

2. What effective strategies have worked in your community or setting to prevent and address GBV in all its forms & What laws do you think need to be strengthened or repealed to help prevent and address GBV, and to protect the rights of women and girls in all of our diversity?

Gender based violence is a continual systemic issue. It has less to do with the laws but that laws are implemented and enforced without influence from patriarchal and misogynist roots. An example of this can be seen in the recent Jian Ghomeshi case in Toronto, Canada. Jian, a popular radio host, was found not guilty on multiple sex assault charges despite having numerous high profile witnesses and evidence. In a Statistics Canada survey of victimization in 2013 472,000 women reported a sexual assault, with only 1,610 guilty verdicts in a court of law. This is an unacceptable statistic that demonstrates the ways in which laws are failing women in Canada. In order to protect the rights of women and girls in diversity there must be strengthened enforcement of laws and a changed narrative of believing the experiences of women. 

3. How can young women be supported to break structural barriers that hinder the progress towards gender equality?

Young women can be supported first and foremost through education and opportunity. This includes providing young women the opportunities to take on positions of leadership within communities and decision making processes. This means an equal seat at the table with power and autonomy over their own bodies, sexual health and education. If young women are provided education and access to information their potential is infinite. I often think to the phrase "Educate a girl, empower a nation" to break structural barriers and to implement equality and perhaps most importantly, equity. 

4. Why do we need a feminist HIV Response?

We need a feminist response that addresses the inter-sectionality of HIV issues. A feminist response is integral terms of prevention and education in response to the spread of HIV that is happening all over the globe. The intersection between HIV, gender based violence, sexual assault and poverty can only be addressed through a feminist based response with equality and empowerment at the forefront. 

5. The world will meet in June at the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016, what is one of things you would like to see come out of this meeting, especially that it happens after adoption of SDGs?

I want to see action plans and concrete solutions come out of the High Level Meeting on AIDS 2016 in June. So often high level meetings and conferences bring together dialogue and talk, which is important. However, what is needed is true collaboration and action plans - including task forces and working groups that do meaningful work with feminist organizations at a community level. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals can only be successful if there is true investment at a grassroots level. 

Women's Political Participation for Sustainable Development; The need for a Gender Equality Law

Women's political participation is an essential component for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals will only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision makers, and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies.

One of the most effective ways of improving the status and well-being of women is by ensuring their full, equal and effective participation in decision-making at all levels of political, economic and social life. This approach promotes and protects women’s human rights while allowing society to benefit from the diverse experiences, talents and capabilities of all its members.

The need for a Gender Equality Law as has been witnessed recently in Countries like Nigeria and Kenya is essential in order to ensure constitutional and legislative reform processes and the voluntary measures are introduced to enhance gender equality within political leadership of a country. Gender inequality in political spaces has been an issue for several centuries, the world over. History has it that fewer women have been in power even before colonialism.

Kenya’s new constitution and the Government’s Vision 2030 both address gender equality. For example, the Bill of Rights in the constitution affirms equal rights and non-discrimination, and the constitution embeds affirmative action aiming at improving equal participation in decision making. Notwithstanding that gender equality is clearly recognized as key for development in Kenya, there are still considerable differences in the country between men and women’s possibilities to control and benefit from economic, social and political resources and structures.

On 11th December 2012, the Supreme Court of Kenya delivered a majority decision that the realization of the two-thirds gender principle under Article 81 (b) is progressive. In its ruling, the Supreme Court directed that Parliament is under an obligation to have a framework on realization of the two third Gender Rule by 27th August 2015.

The Hon. Attorney General Githu Muigai had filed a request in the Supreme Court for an Advisory Opinion as to whether the two-thirds gender principle was to be realized by the first general elections (under the new Constitution) i.e. in March 2013, or over a longer period of time.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Attorney General constituted a technical working group (TWG) on 3rd February 2014, that included the National Gender and Equality Commission (Convener and Secretariat); Ministry of Devolution and Planning, Attorney General’s Office, Office of the Registrar of Political Parties; Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission; Commission on Administrative Justice, Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution; Parliament (Committees on the Implementation of the Constitution and Legal Affairs, respectively); Kenya Women’s Parliamentary Association- and FIDA–Kenya representing civil society. The Technical Working Group’s role was to develop a mechanism for the implementation of the Two-thirds principle and to ensure this mechanism is ready within the deadline provided.

For the last one year, the Technical Working Group has sought and received various proposals from the public and experts on potential viable formulas. The Group has meticulously analyzed and processed all those proposals and considered the merits and demerits. All proposals have been shared with the Hon Attorney General for his input

After engaging with Kenyans and stakeholders and both local and international constitutional experts on the matter, the team has concluded that the only proposed formula that will realize the two third gender rule with precision is amending the Kenya Constitution 2010. The amendment is to use the formula that has worked for the county governments after the 2013 elections thus lifting Article 177 (1) (b) and (c) of the Constitution and importing it in Article 97 and 98 of the constitution for representation in the National Assembly and Senate accordingly

Fast-forward to April 2016 and equitable gender representation in elective and appointive leadership positions remains a thorny subject. Cabinet, as constituted, does not meet the two-thirds criteria. Whereas key stakeholders agree that women leaders should be part and parcel of the government and the state, part of the political class has not demonstrated commitment that would ensure a clear mechanism is provided in law to facilitate implementation of the two-thirds gender rule.

On April 27, 2016, MPs fell short of the threshold of passing the Constitution of Kenya Amendment No. 4 Bill of 2015 also known as the ‘Duale Bill.’ Only 195 MPs voted for the Bill against the 233 MPs required to pass it. In effect, 38 MPs refused to support the bill despite being present. It is for that reason that National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi ordered a fresh voting after 199 legislators supported it, while 28 opposed.

Women MPs have continued to lobby their men counterparts, while both the Jubilee and Cord principals have been urging their MPs to vote for it. Nairobi woman representative Rachel Shebesh said the bill has to be passed as required by the constitution to beat the five-year deadline, despite opposition by some men MPs.

As we await on whether the Bill will be passed into law, it is important to note that this Bill will be an important piece of legislation that will address the invisibility of women in the development process starting from women's political participation from the lowest to the highest government office. Needless to say, in the design of sustainable development interventions, it is imperative that we take into account the situation and needs of both women and men. Women are clearly the more disadvantaged sex all over the world and a gender equality law would provide a framework for interventions that recognize and take into account the role of women in sustainable development. Its really about time that we got a law that would be accelerate women's political participation for development.