She is an anti-FGM activist, a champion to end child marriage and she will stop at nothing until Governments put an end to harmful practices against women and girls worldwide.

On this International Zero Tolerance Day against FGM, we speak to the one persistent activist Alimatu Dimonekene, who is forever burdened by the fight to end harmful practice against women and girls all over the world against all odds. 

1. How does FGM affect the lives of those who undergo it?

FGM affects women and girls differently. From long term complications like death to short term complications like severe bleeding, painful sexual intercourse, infertility to terrible mental anxious.

2. Talk to me a little bit about ProjectACEi? 

The ProjectACEi, is non-profit group stands against female genital mutilation and harmful practices against women and girls. ProjectACEi is a group of African and European women and men that fight for the abolition of FGM. Child and Early Marriage, Forced Marriage.  We also work closely with Governments, International Organizations, National Health Services (NHS), NSPCC, Home Office, Faith Leaders and many statutory agencies to promote the elimination of FGM and violence against women.

3. Why is it important for Governments to commit to act in eliminating violence and harmful practices against women? 

It is important for governments to commit in implementing laws, policies to help tackle FGM and all other forms of violence against women and girls. Help introduce measures that will support the work of grassroots in supporting women and girls affected by FGM. Governments must also pledge to improve access to justice for vulnerable women, survivors of domestic violence, by eliminating many of the obstacles women and girls encounter. 

4. How important is it to engage the communities, especially the informal decision making structures in tackling FGM?

It is vital to engage with communities in every step of the addressing FGM. As members of the very FGM affected communities are the best access to reaching those who are likely to promote FGM. The overarching aim of any agencies working with communities must ensure the safety of girls and women who are at risk of FGM. 

5. Talk to me a little bit about Not In My Name Campaign? 

The Not In My Name Campaign is an anti-FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) campaign demanding an end to FGM in Sierra Leone. Not In My Name is a Sierra Leonean coalition of leading national and international activists, who are calling for the rights of all women and girls in Sierra Leone to be protected and promoted - including the immediate enactment and enforcement of a ban on FGM.

6. What is the role of men and boys in the fight to end FGM?

The practice of FGM is centered around patriarchal and misogynistic systems for millennial. Men and boy’s role is fundamental. It will be almost impossible to end if they are not part of the discussions. In some communities, the men are the solution. Crucial that the voices of men and boys are included as they are often the leaders within the communities.

7. What is the relation between FGM and Child Marriage?

 In most communities FGM is synonymous with Child Marriage. As FGM in many instances is carried out on women and girls to make they available for marriage. As it is now proven that most girls are subjected to FGM.

8. How can anyone contribute towards ending harmful practices like FGM and Child marriage whether it affects them directly or not?

Well there is now an active movement around the world. We as a survivor led group ProjectACEi welcome the support from donor organizations looking to support small groups. Engage through social media #EndFGM and follow survivors leading the campaign.

On this International Youth Day, we speak to a young feminist making waves in Kenya and abroad on women's sexual and reproductive health rights.

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role as Dandelion Kenya Deputy Director.

Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, Dandelion Kenya is a Feminist organization based in Nakuru Kenya working with women and youth to enable access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services

2. How would you describe Gender Equality and why is it important in the different spheres of life?

Gender Equality is important because it is at the core of the change making process in Africa otherwise we won’t move. In particular we need to enable women and girls access to information andspaces and opportunity influence policy change. It is only until we have full and effective participation of women and girls in social, political and economic development that we will havea just society. I want to see women and girls living in a world where they control choices regarding their bodies and health, their bodily autonomy is guaranteed and their agency is promoted.

3. What does it entail to be a young leader at Woman Deliver and what conversations did you have in Copenhagen in relation to status of Sexual and Reproductive rights, particularly in relation to Kenya?

As a women deliver young leader you access training and facilitation through online courses, access global and regional policy and decision making spaces. These spaces enable young advocates carry the voices of their constituencies, mostly women and girls and other marginalized groups such as LGBTI and rural youth and also be at the decision making tables. As a women deliver young leader, you are able to apply for seed funding for your project which provides much needed resources to power and propel youth start ups, social enterprises and organizations. At women deliver there were conversations related to SDGs, maternal health and family planning all of which apply to Kenya. The unmet needs of family planning are a reality for young people, I sat on panels speaking about access to safe abortion and we know very well that a third of maternal mortality are from unsafe abortions. Kenya led the SDGs process globally but has been slow in actualizing the process nationally. I also participated in conversations around financing for women’s rights organizations.

4. What were the discussions on the 60th Session for the Commission on the Status of Women this year in New York in relation to sexual and reproductive health rights and what is the way forward on the Resolution that came out of it?

The discussions were keen to of course discuss women’s empowermentand link to sustainable development as priority theme. Within the SDGs there are targets on SRHR( 3.7 and 5.6). This was important to tease out and ensure that those targets are given equal prominence as the others. The session also had Violence against women as a review theme and this isof global importance given the high rates of violence against women globally. The agreed conclusions will continue to guide the gender equality efforts of countries globally and the HIV resolution was important in building momentum to the High Level Meeting AIDS in June

5. Would you say that the Kenyan government is on the right track to achieving Gender Equality? What are some of the things they can do to step up their initiatives?

The progress is regrettably slow, we have only 19% of women in elected leadership, none of the appointment positions go beyond 30%. With regards to education, we have achieved near parity in primary school enrolment but fail in retention, completion and transition and have below 1% women and girls in STEM. We have 27% FGM prevalence with some areas above 90%, we are doing bad with maternal mortality. Gender equality requires deliberate actions and high end sustainable political. We must also continue working hard in regards to legislations to enable gender equality such as the 2 thirds gender bill and also enable access to services and tools that women and girls require for the promotion of their agency

6. Where does your passion for sexual and reproductive health issues come from? 

I grew up in Mukuru slums and was witness to rights violations and gaps in women and girls health particularly SRHR. I lost friends to maternal mortality and AIDS and had classmates drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy. I engage in SRHR advocacy to ensure that adolescent girls and young women are guaranteed choices regarding their bodies, health and life through access to information and services. The policy gaps, socio cultural, financial and infrastructural barriers compel me to act

7. With the number of sexual assault cases rising, what would be your advice to women on how they can protect themselves, especially young women?

It is not for women and girls to PROTECT THEMSELVES but for societies to hold the rapists (mostly men and boys) accountable for their actions. We need to tell men not to rape and ensure the legislation is airtight in not aiding patriarchy. Women and girls have been told what to do for the longest time, rape culture and victim blaming are all tools of patriarchy. It is time we addressed the underlying power and gender relations issues that nurture rape culture and all other harmful and discriminatory social norms

8. Being that abortion is outlawed in Kenya yet it is still practiced by illegal clinics and under very unsafe conditions, do you think its its time to outlaw it? 

Abortion is about bodily autonomy and choice for women, there is no amount of legislation against the issues that will make it go away!!. I am feminist and this means supporting women’s choice which includes reproductive freedom. Being a safe abortion advocate, I think that it’s important to point out how restrictive laws only increase numbers of unsafe abortions by outlawing choice and policing women’s bodies.

9. What   is   your   advice   to   young   women   who   want   to   get   involved   in   sexual   and reproductive health rights in Kenya?

There is need to build your own capacity by educating yourself on the issues and the politics given that SRHR is both an issue based and political conversation ( in both subtle and pronounced ways depending on the level you want to engage. Eventually it is crucial to know that working on SRHR is only worthwhile if you are complementing efforts of other actors, being innovative and most importantly engaging in movement building. The fragmentation and the fact not all advocates are on the same page on the politics of issues such as abortion and LGBTI rights is what impedes progress. Finally is to ensure that we also build astrong feminist movement because feminism asks the most difficult questions and where there is feminism, certainly we reimagine how to ask the questions.

10. What is the SDGs Kenya Forum about and why such a forum?

The SDGs Kenya Forum is a platform resulting from a transition process by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who came together about 3 years ago as the Kenya CSOs Reference Group on Post 2015.The transition and the forum was driven by the need to

i) Have a coordinated and structured approach for civil society and citizens to engage the government and other development actors towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (SDGs)

ii) Create space and open up a forum for CSOs to strategically align, organise and participate in critical conversations with various ministries, county governments and development partners

iii) Strengthen partnerships and provide technical support to respective government departments and development partners that are key to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (SDGs).

Members of the SDGs Kenya Forum comprise of diverse CSOs constituencies seeking to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (SDGs).

 

She made it her mission that women and leadership would be on the agenda in her first 100 days.

  The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC is the sixth Commonwealth Secretary-General  


The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC is the sixth Commonwealth Secretary-General
 

Today, the Commonwealth Secretary General Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC will host the first ever Commonwealth Women Leaders’ Summit to start work on the Secretariat’s Gender Equality Framework 2020.

The event will bring together female leaders from all parts of the Commonwealth to discuss the road map to 2020 and include the three specific subject areas:

  • Violence Against Women and Girls,
  • Women in Leadership and
  • Women’s Economic Empowerment.
 Follow the conversation on this summit through  #womenleaderssummit

Follow the conversation on this summit through #womenleaderssummit

The meeting is the first in a series of events to prepare for September’s Commonwealth Woman’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting in Samoa and the United Nations General Assembly in New York before the publication of the Commonwealth’s Gender Equality Framework in 2017.

When she took office in April 2016, she promised that her first focus would be to tackle the violence against women and girls, and what better way to do that than to bring together key women leaders across the Commonwealth to think about how the Commonwealth can better deliver for women and girls.

Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, said:
“I want to re-invigorate the Commonwealth’s commitments on gender equality and the global goals. This will be the first of a series of meetings we will hold together as women leaders of the Commonwealth.”

Be sure to watch join in and participate in the summit through the Live Stream here.

SPEAK UP, don't be silent when you experience or see gender inequality; do something.

  Saudi-Arabian Human Rights Defender and International Women of Courage Award Winner 2012,  Samar Badawi . Women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to vote in the municipal elections for the first time in 2015, thanks to efforts of women rights defenders like her, who speak out towards injustices based on gender. 

Saudi-Arabian Human Rights Defender and International Women of Courage Award Winner 2012, Samar Badawi. Women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to vote in the municipal elections for the first time in 2015, thanks to efforts of women rights defenders like her, who speak out towards injustices based on gender. 

Have you heard of Nicola Thorp, a 27 year old woman who was a receptionist at an accountancy firm in London in December 2015 and was sent home from work for not wearing high heels to work? If yes, well and good and if not, sit back as I inform you on why she's worth of your attention.

Nicola explains that after the incident, she spoke to her friends and decided to post about the incident on her Facebook account which is when she realized that, other women had been in similar positions. She then decided to launch a petition, which basically was calling for the law to be changed so that companies could no longer force women to wear high heels to work. As of today, the petition set up on the UK Government and Parliament's petitions website has garnered over 139,000 signatories, surpassing the 100,000 signature mark, the number required for a petition to be considered for a debate in Parliament.

Nicola says that when the incident initially happened, she was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was negative backlash. She then states. “but I realized that I needed to put a voice to this as it is a much bigger issue".

While I am sure that a lot of people have experienced gender based discrimination or so much as gender based violence on different instances, their experiences differ and vary. Each experience is unique in its own way. It may be cultural based like female genital mutilation; being married off at a young age and to person not of your own choice or liking; or being denied the right to education on the basis that one is a girl. Others include domestic violence which is something that a lot of women experience; rape; discrimination at places of work like what Nicola experienced; discrimination that occurs when accessing public service; being denied certain rights like the right to property, freedom of movement; or freedom of expression based on your gender. These are just but a few examples of the injustices that people experience because they are of a particular gender.

Whether someone believes that this is a rights issue or not, it is important for one to speak up when they experience any sort of unequal treatment based on their gender. This may not be as easy as it seems because of the victimization that the victims of these inequalities undergo. Sometimes this victimization includes a threat to a person's life. This though should not deter you from speaking up because it is only from people raising their voices on instances of gender inequality that the issue is brought to light.

By raising your voice, you are confronting the inequality. It is good to note that by talking about it, you are promoting a cycle of openness and actions to be taken against the injustice. By talking about the injustice, you give the oppressor an opportunity to think about the consequences of their actions and to rectify it, and this is also an opportunity for the law makers to think about the injustice and what they can do about it to make sure that the same doesn't occur to another person.

Change depends on ordinary people who have the courage to say enough is enough and no more
— Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director, GREENPEACE INTERNATIONAL

In this day of digital age, speaking up against gender inequality by victims of it means enduring endless backlash from people who may not not agree with them, which sometimes includes sexist abuses. But don't give up yet, here are a few pointers that you should keep in mind that will encourage you to SPEAK UP

1. Your fruitful work may go unnoticed but the results of your actions will not. 

Recognizing that your actions may go unnoticed but the results of your actions will have an impact, even if not immediately, or to yourself, will make your efforts worth it. Don't underestimate the impact of raising your voice on instances of gender inequality, it may help one person at the end of the day. The mere fact that of sharing your experience may have a tangible impact on someone else who may be experiencing the same injustice and you may choose to confront it together. 

Don’t be afraid to speak up against any injustice you experience. Don’t let people scare or shame you into changing the things about you that make you unique.
— Kesha

2. You are instrumental in the fight for gender equality

Despite what your experience might have been, it is important for you to know that by speaking out on it, you are helping correct the injustice. You are helping all those who are to come after you, you are saying that the injustice needs to be addressed now. The rules/culture may prescribe somethings which may not be fair and just or people may have separate minds and points of view on something. Coming out and pointing that the rules/practices are unjust or a particular point of view is discriminatory in a particular manner towards a certain gender is the first step. Your voice on this matter is important. 

To see injustice and do nothing about it means you participate in it
— Jean-Jacques Rouseau

3. You are not the problem 

Many victims of gender injustice blame themselves for what happens to them. Shame, guilt and backlash from people can deepen your trauma. Blaming yourself robs you the minimal strength you may have that will enable you to speak up. Blaming yourself maintains your victim status and allows your oppressor/perpetrator more power or control. You are not responsible for the injustice that occurred to you; and understanding this is the biggest tool that you can use to fight back, to speak up. 

It is important for you to speak up against the inequality because at times, the injustice is not always associated with action but rather with an inaction.  

4. It may take time but eventually you will be able to talk about it.

When the renowned Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) activist Alimatu Dimoneke first underwent FGM as a teenager back in Sierra Leone, she was so traumatized because she did not understand why it had to happen to her. It took her 22 years before she could speak up about it. She was told that she would die if she ever spoke about it. For more than 22 years, she struggled with terrible flashbacks, depression and pain.

She was able to finally come out and speak about it after many years trying to heal, counselling and a great support system that she got. In November 2013, she broke her silence to tell her story at an event at Britain’s parliament. Her speech was so raw and powerful that even long-time campaigners against FGM were in tears.

Alimatu describes the evening she spoke at the House of Commons as, 'a massive turning point' in her life. She says, “I realized my voice could reach people and was powerful, and that I did not have to stay silent.”

Remember that by speaking up, we are agents of change, we are raising our voice on a problem that needs to be addressed, we are calling for solutions. It may not be easy to speak up but remember that the situation will not fix itself unless you speak up.

Let us raise our voices to end gender inequality. SPEAK UP.

 

 

 

When you fight for Gender Equality, you fight for a better world – Sen. Dr. Agnes Zani, ODM Nominated Senator

There needs to be a stronger political will to enable the Government to step up its efforts to achieve gender equality.
— Sen. Dr. Agnes Zani.

 

Dr. Agnes Zani is no ordinary woman. She is a tireless gender equality and minority rights advocate. Before her nomination to the Senate, she was a distinguished career educationalist who taught for many years at the University of Nairobi’s Sociology Department. Dr, Agnes Zani earned a B.A in Sociology, University of Nairobi, 1990; attained an M.A in sociology (UoN,1994) and PhD in Sociology (Oxford University, 2004-2007)

I met her at the monthly Gender Forum held on 28th April 2016 by Heinrich Boll Stiftung, FEMNET and ICJ Kenya at Sarova Stanley Hotel on Civil Society Organization’s reflections on the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2016.

What does Gender Equality mean to you and why is it important?

Gender equality to me means a society where men and women are equal, where women and men alike are accorded an opportunity to contribute to the society and to be able to bring something to the table. Gender equality is a human right. Gender equality does not mean that women need to fight with men, but it is about bringing out the potentials of both genders to be able to achieve an equal society.

I advocate for gender equality because when you fight for gender equality, you fight for a better world.

The two-thirds Gender Bill (also known as the Duale Bill) failed to be adopted by the National Assembly last week on 27th April. Following the National Assembly Speaker’s call for a fresh vote on it tomorrow on May 5th, do you think the Bill will pass into law eventually?

I trust that we have lobbied enough for the Bill and the support for it has increased since last week on Wednesday, but it’s still difficult to tell the outcome. The biggest challenge that we face tomorrow is getting enough number of Members of Parliament to be present in Parliament in order to be able to pass the Bill. Last Wednesday we had a good number of MPs in Parliament since we still had another Bill in the Order paper (the Kaluma Bill which was an Amendment Bill barring courts from interfering with Parliament’s law-making process and decisions).

If the Bill is not passed, then I am afraid that the male MPs will be sending a message that they do not care about women in this country, which is unfortunate. This will also mean that the Chepkonga Bill; which basically calls for amendment of the Constitution for the progressive realization of the gender rule in regards to the two thirds gender principle is tabled again for discussions in Parliament.

*(The Bill to change the Constitution in order to fulfil the two-thirds gender requirement garnered 195 yes votes last Wednesday, 28 nay votes and at least 24 MPs refused to vote or indicated they had abstained).

The Kenyan general elections are coming up next year. What is your advice for women who want to run for elective seats? Will KEWOPA be supporting or building capacities of the women candidates interested in running for the elective seats?

My advice to the women who wish to run for the elective seats is that they should go ahead and do it; and that they should not be discouraged by challenges. It’s all about the politics of 'who will run where and how'. Sometimes the challenge may be that a woman may get a party’s nomination in a constituency or a region that is not the party’s stronghold, or that one is nominated to run against a major candidate of the opposite party; but these challenges can be overcome.

One thing for sure is that more women will be running for elective seats in the upcoming elections in 2017 in all the 47 Counties in the different capacities. Nearly all the nominated Senators for example will be running for different elective seats, be it that of the Members of Parliament, Senators, Women Representatives and Governors.

While initially women had a myriad of challenges especially for the positions created under the 2010 Constitution of the Republic of Kenya, the situation has changed for now. Initially women were hindered by availability of funds, issues to do with visibility but these are challenges that we can be able to tackle now..

KEWOPA has so far been building the capacities of women who are interested in these political seats and identifying the strong women who can run for the various posts. They have further been collaborating with NGO’s in meeting with women who are interested in elective seats and conducting various trainings with them on leadership.

Will you be running for an elective seat?

Yes.

Where? (I ask her.)

In my County Kwale. (I ask her in which capacity she will be vying), she laughs and asks me to watch the space.

Would you say that the Kenyan Government is on the right track to achieve gender equality?

No. There needs to be a stronger political will in order to enable the Government to step up its efforts to achieve gender equality. We need to understand that there is a correlation between women’s participation and development. We need to look at Rwanda and see the much that has been achieved in terms of development by having more women participate in the decision making processes and being partners in development.

What would then be your advice to the Government in regards to stepping up its efforts towards achieving gender equality?

The Kenyan Government needs to take this commitment seriously. We need to engender the disbursement of funds that we spend on development and to evaluate whether the 30% procurement policy for women and youth has worked for example.

We can also do this by supporting the laws that accelerate the achievement of gender equality like the Bill on Two thirds gender rule, by encouraging the appointment of more women into the cabinet (just to mention a few steps that the government can start with).

Do you have a Twitter account and do you manage it yourself?

Yes, I do have a twitter account, @agnes_zani and I do manage it myself with the help of my personal assistant. I read the tweets when I can and I respond to them.

My first focus is tackling violence against women and girls - Secretary- General Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, 6th Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations

The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, the sixth Commonwealth Secretary-General has pledged to tackle violence against women and girls as her first focus among the four focus areas that she set as she took office today. This was during the Welcome reception to celebrate her as the incoming Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

The others include tackling the threat of climate change, focus on trade and good governance and finally focus on youth. Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC is not new to issues of tacking violence against women and girls as she introduced the Domestic Violence Crimes and Victims Act and founded the Eliminate Domestic Violence Global Foundation in 2011.