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East Africa: The status of women remains unequal at all levels of society

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For over two decades, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) has been fighting for gender equality, empowerment of women and improvement of women’s rights in Kenya and broadly in East Africa. Established in 1999, CREAW has used bold, innovative and holistic interventions for the realization of women’s rights. Most of its programs have focused on challenging practices that undermine equity, equality and constitutionalism, promoting women’s participation in decision making and deepening the ideology and philosophy of women’s empowerment.

In this interview, Mercy Jelimo, an Executive Program Officer at the Nairobi-based Center for Rights, Education and Awareness (CREAW) discusses the current situation about gender issues, landmarked achievements, existing challenges and the way forward. Here are the interview excerpts:

In your estimation and from your research, how is the situation with gender inequality, specifically in Kenya, and generally in East Africa?

MJ: This survey was commissioned by our partners Women Deliver and Focus 2030 with over 17,000 respondents covering 17 countries on six continents. The survey findings indicated that over 60% of respondents believed that Gender Equality had progressed. However, on average 57% of respondents also felt that the fight for gender equality is not over particularly because we see key aspects of gender inequality persist including:  unequal distribution of unpaid care, domestic work and parental responsibilities between men and women (the COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the burden women bear as caregivers) different employment opportunities with religion and culture continuing to entrench discrimination against women.

Whereas in East Africa, the survey only covered Kenya, the results are shared across. In particular, the Kenyan respondents indicated that there has been notable progress in regards to Gender equality particularly when it comes to the legal and policy frameworks to guard against discrimination on whichever basis be it sex, religion, class or race.

Over the last quarter century, the country has promulgated a new Constitution and a raft of subsidiary legislations and policies that are critical to Gender equality. Some of these laws include but not limited to: the Sexual Offences Act 2006, the Children’s Act 2001, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011, the Marriage Act 2014, the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act 2015, the Victim Protection Act 2014, the Witness Protection Act 2008, the National Policy for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence 2014, the National Guidelines on the Management of Sexual Violence 2015, the Multi-sector Standard Operating Procedures for Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence, and the National Policy on the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) 2019.

Kenya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, among other instruments. However, even with this robust legal framework, accountability and the implementation of these laws have lagged behind.

The status of women and girls as compared to men and boys still remains unequal at all levels of society both public and private. This imbalance manifests itself as normalized negative social norms and ‘cultural’ practices with brutal violations against women and girls continuing to be perpetrated, women being excluded from leadership and decision making  positions, limited in their political participation and women and girls being denied access to economic opportunities.

Undeniably, women and girls continue to be victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including rape, domestic violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. In fact, as of March 2020, according to statistics from Kenya’s Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC), 45% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence with women with girls accounting for 90% of gender-based violence (SGBV) cases reported. Harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage are still prevalent, with the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2014) reporting a national FGM prevalence rate of 21% for women and girls aged 15-49 years of age. The prevalence rate differs from one practicing community to the other, with communities such Somali (96%) Samburu (86%) and The Maasai (78%) having significantly higher prevalence. 

Sadly, this is the story across all the other countries in East Africa where we have progressive legal and Policy framework but with zero accountability mechanisms. It is worth noting that in 2018, the East Africa Community Council of Ministers approved the EAC Gender policy which is key to ensuring that gender equality and empowerment of women are not only integrated into every aspect of its work but provides an outline of key priority areas for partner states. The EAC has also instituted other gender mainstreaming efforts including the EAC Social Development framework (2013), the EAC child policy (2016) the EAC Youth policy (2013), a Gender Mainstreaming Strategy for EAC Organs and Institutions, (2013) amongst others.

By the way, what are your research findings that you presented in report on Jan 28? Are there any similarities and differences about gender studies in other East Africa countries?

MJ: The key findings from Kenya can generally be used to paint a picture of the situation in the EAC region. Apparent Gender disparities in the region remain in a number of areas such as in political representation, access to education and training, access to quality and affordable healthcare, high unemployment rates of women, rampant sexual and gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, inadequate financing for gender needs and programs. 

Firstly, when asked about the status of Gender Equality, the majority of respondents identified Gender Equality as an important issue (96%) and that government should do more (invest) to promote gender equality.

Secondly, the role of religion and culture; how boys and girls are socialized and unequal representation were identified as obstacles to gender equality. This finding indicates the work that still remains to be done for Gender equality actors in Kenya and other partner states in the EAC. The most important step to achieving gender equality is dismantling systems and structures that promote and protect inequalities. whereas the country has made tremendous progress in having relevant legal and policy frameworks, there is still lack of implementation of these laws – this finding answers the why question– because institutions, people and structures are still very patriarchal. Furthermore, the lack of representation of women (also cited by Kenyan respondents as an obstacle) might explain the failures in implementation of the laws and policies.

Thirdly, the respondents identified corruption as the most important issue facing the country. This finding is also supported by the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer – Africa survey that showed that more than half of citizens in the continent think graft is getting worse and that governments were doing very little to curb the vice.  The impact that corruption has on service delivery cannot be overemphasized especially on public goods such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation. More specifically, is the resulting lack of public financing to programs and interventions that address gender needs & promote gender equality.

A recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI) Report by Transparency International indicated that all the countries in East Africa with the exception of Rwanda scored below the global average rate of 43 out of 100. More importantly is that the report noted that countries that perform well on the CPI have strong enforcement of campaign finance regulations as this correlates with the dismal performance of women in politics who often than not do not have the requisite political funding to mount effective political campaigns and outcompete their male counterparts.

What would you say about discrimination or representation of women in politics in the region? Do you feel that women are not strongly encouraged in this political sphere?

MJ: There has been significant progress when it comes to women’s political representation and participation with a majority of the countries in the EAC region adopting constitutional quotas and other remedies to promote representation. All the countries in the East Africa Community have achieved the 30% critical mass with the exception of Kenya (21%) and South Sudan (28%). More women occupy ministerial portfolios that were perceived to be the preserve of men such as defense, foreign affairs, manufacturing, trade, public service and so forth. Not to miss that the leading country globally – Rwanda is from the region (63%).

However, most institutions including parliaments are still male dominated and women in the region still face a number of challenges including violence against women in politics, religious and cultural beliefs and norms that limit women role, lack of support from political parties, lack of campaign financing and unregulated campaign financing environment with the progressive legal and policy frameworks yet to be fully implemented. These challenges continue to limit the representation and participation of women in public and  political sphere. The region is yet to have a woman as a president just to illustrate the glass ceilings that remain.

Tell us about how women are perceived (public opinion) in the society there? How is the state or government committed to change this situation, most probably by enacting policies?

MJ: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I ‘ll tell you what you value” This quote by President Joe Biden aptly captures the state of affairs in the region in relation to gender equality. The countries in the region have continued to enact and reform legal and policy frameworks but have largely remain unimplemented. The primary reasons being lack of financial and accountability mechanisms to ensure that these programs and policies are actualized. For us to reach to the conclusion that governments are committed to promoting gender equality and women empowerment, we need to see a shift from lip service to prioritization and adequate resourcing of programs that advance gender equality.

What platforms are there for improving gender equality, for ending gender-based violence and for discussing forms of discrimination there? Do you suggest governments have to act now to accelerate issues and progress on gender equality in East Africa?

MJ: As Deliver for Good Campaign partners in Kenya together with other gender equality advocates, the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa Agenda 2063 provide important blueprints to developing our society economically, socially and politically. The Deliver for Good campaign is an evidence-based advocacy campaigns that call for better policies, programming and financial investments in girls and women. Most importantly, the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is an important mobilization moment to ask governments and private sector to accelerate progress not just in East Africa but globally. Specifically, we will be using this moment to call on governments, not only make bigger and bolder commitments but also, to ensure that they match these commitments with financing and accountability mechanisms.

As the Deliver for Good campaign partners in Kenya, we have a particular interest on one of the GEF Action Coalitions – Gender Based Violence – to leverage on the Kenyan government leadership and the political will to end traditional practices that are harmful to women and girls such as Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage. Particularly and in line with the survey findings, we will be calling for: increased accountability for physical and sexual crimes against women; increased investment on prevention and protection programs while calling for inclusive efforts and programs that leave no woman behind in Kenya and East Africa.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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New Social Compact

The Art of Military Leadership: Growing from a student to a leader

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How does military leadership differ between students and leaders? What are some common traits found in successful officers?

Leadership has become essential in today’s workforce. Everyone needs someone who knows how to motivate and direct teams, from sales managers to executives. How those at the top of organizations lead their subordinates also affects morale levels within the company.  

Leadership is defined as the ability to influence or direct the actions of another person or group. This definition encompasses all areas of life and is essential to succeed at anything in life. Good leaders can motivate followers, inspire them, and guide them toward success.

They can build strong teams and develop relationships with diverse groups of people. Influential leaders can identify problems and opportunities. They can anticipate future events, and make sound decisions. Here is how military leadership can help students grow.

Leadership Development

Military education places a premium on nurturing future leaders. With military education for college students, they can better learn the proven path to becoming strong leaders. Military education courses aim to foster this quality by strengthening participants’ leadership abilities in decisiveness, communication, and resilience. After solid groundwork has been laid in these interconnected areas of expertise, it is used as the basis for military strategy in various situations. With proper strategy and an essay for inspiration about leader attributes, each student can further hone their educational leadership skills. They can become a senior military leader and be able to guide their troops through difficult mental and physical challenges.

Teamwork & Collaboration

Military education encourages people to work together. Teamwork and the ability to collaborate on tasks benefit from exposure to a wide range of people. These courses teach students and military officers from all branches how to work together to solve issues. Whether they hail from the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, or the Marines.

This allows leaders from diverse branches of the military to learn from one another. This is done by complementing their unique skills and experiences. The military’s top brass can learn valuable techniques for fostering cohesion.

Expanding Views

Working and studying with a wide range of people and various teachers also helps broaden one’s view. Students benefit from military education programs because they can learn from their colleagues’ experiences and perspectives.

Officers’ adaptability to different situations and their ability to forecast their own strategies’ outcomes are bolstered by this. Military education students benefit from working with military commanders from other branches. This is because they are exposed to new perspectives and problem-solving methods.

Analytical Reasoning

Military education provides military leaders with supplementary critical thinking training and writing skills. This is done through its emphasis on situational analysis and problem resolution. Due to the importance of this skill in the Department of Defense and the armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines). It must be practiced frequently to maintain mental acuity and readiness.

Leaders in the armed forces can benefit from military education. This is because it instructs them in the methods of strategic thinking that will help them solve the complex problems they face and make sound decisions. Many facets of their critical thinking will benefit from this.

How To Become A Better Military Leader

Put Your Followers First

Demonstrate leadership by serving those under you. Respect your devotees and look out for them. Keep them safe. Your wants will be considered secondary. Of course, you should prioritize your safety and well-being alongside that of your unit, its objective, and its followers.

Appreciate and Reward Your Team

One of the most fundamental human wants is the yearning to be recognized.

Neither at work nor home do most people feel they are valued, acknowledged, or recognized. The silent misery of their existence is palpable.

Recognizing and rewarding your team is a great way to boost morale and motivation.

Share Your Vision

If you want to be a good leader, whether, in charge of a small group or an entire army, you need a plan.

You don’t have to be an Apple-level visionary to have some plan for your team or division. Have a mental picture of how you’d like your unit or subsection to develop over the next few years.

It would help if you communicated that goal to your followers and, more crucially, demonstrated how they contribute to that vision. Demonstrate the impact that their work and contributions are having on your goals.

Conclusion

The art of military leadership has been practiced since ancient times. While some aspects of military leadership have remained unchanged. Other leadership attributes have changed significantly throughout history. As societies have evolved, so too have the expectations placed upon their leaders. Consequently, the role of military leaders has expanded beyond its original purpose. It now includes political, economic, diplomatic, technological, social, cultural, and psychological domains.

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New Social Compact

International Relations Degree: Jobs You Can Pursue with It

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If you are interested in working in an international environment or company, you have probably thought about pursuing an international relations degree. Doing this opens many career doors, not only in world affairs or government. There are many rewarding careers you can pursue with an international relations degree, as you study a lot of distinct fields.

As a student, you are probably already looking for career opportunities, as you want to know what jobs you can apply to with this degree. Well, you should know that there are many and you have plenty of opportunities to choose from, depending on your goals, values, and what you like. So, what are the jobs you can pursue with an international relations degree? Find out below.

Political Consultant

If you love politics and want to be active in this field, then maybe you could consider a job as a political consultant. What would be your responsibilities and tasks? Well, you are responsible for the image of a politician. This means you run campaigns to promote them and do press releases that endorse the image of the candidate. You have a lot of work, especially during campaign time that precedes the voting. You are kind of a PR, but for a politician. And this means you will interact with a lot of people and organizations, but companies too that can support your campaign and legislative changes.

If you decide to get an international relations degree, you will get the education you need to be an excellent political consultant. You will be introduced to a wide diversity of fields that prepare you for this, such as business, sales, public relations, and of course, politics. As a college student, you will learn about foreign policy, human rights, international finance, global democratization, and many more. And, of course, you will have to complete many assignments and write essays on these topics too. Studying international relations might feel challenging at times so you can use an essay maker to polish your writing skills and expand your knowledge. Writing skills are crucial, no matter the job you choose to pursue with your international relations degree.

Intelligence Specialist

With an international relations degree, you can get a job in the federal government as an intelligence specialist. This is a great opportunity to work for a state security agency, especially if you have always dreamed of doing this. National security is crucial for every country and these agencies, whether they are federal or military, are always searching for the best professionals to take this job. Your main duties would be collecting and analyzing information that is crucial for national security.

This means that you will work and take care of highly classified documents and files. But you also need to keep an eye on everything, as identifying the threats to national security is the main job. Getting an education and earning your international relations degree is not enough for being an intelligence specialist. You will need to undergo highly specialized training that will prepare you for handling sensitive documents and situations.

International Marketing Specialist

The world is changing at a fast pace and we need to adapt to it. Companies and businesses around the world are looking to increase their revenue and profits and many of them extend to other countries too. International organizations should always adapt to the culture of every country they are present in but promote a unified business model and view across the whole organization too. So, with an international relations degree, you can take a job as an international marketing specialist. Your responsibilities would be to take care of the marketing strategy, but also identify the main points and tactics you can use in every country.

You might focus on a specific country, but your main duty would be to find effective ways to increase the brand awareness of the company you work for. You will need to predict changes in marketing trends, identify risks, and, of course, find innovative and creative ways to promote the organization’s products and services among its target audience.

Final Thoughts

An international relations degree opens a lot of career doors and it comes with so many opportunities of working in the government or international environment. Depending on what you like doing and what your career goals are, you can work for a federal institution, international company or organization, or politician, but also in the economics and law domain. Keep an open mind for the opportunities that lie ahead.

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New Social Compact

Let girls be girls, not brides

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Image source: Pakistan Today

Child marriage is very common menace in Pakistan and is deeply ingrained in traditional, societal, and customary norms. Yet it indicates a severe abuse of the human rights of girls. One in three girls in Pakistan get married before becoming 18 years old (Demographic and Health Survey 2012-13).

A girl’s access to a sound and secure childhood, a good education that can lead to better employability, civic and political empowerment are all violated through early marriages. With 1821 child brides in 2020, Pakistan was placed sixth among nations with the highest number of child brides. Girls lose their childhood and future opportunities when they are married as minors. Girls who marry are less likely to complete their education and are more vulnerable to abuse, marital rape, and health problems. Furthermore, child marriage puts girls at risk for unsafe births, ulceration, STDs, and maybe even death. Also, teenage girls are more likely than women in their 20s to pass away due to difficulties during pregnancy. Firstborn children of women who were 16 years old, 17 years old, and 18-19 years old at the time of birth experienced death rates that were, respectively, 2-4 times, and 1.2-1.5 times higher than those of mothers who were 23 to 25 years old. This is an unfortunate truth, that while the humankind has reached the moon and mars, our women are still dying from unsafe births.

This threat has also been documented in a number of previous articles. However, the latest event of the forced marriage of a young girl from Balochistan, who was just five years old, has shaken me from the core. The girl’s father filed a FIR with the Khuzdar Police Station alleging that his daughter was forced into marriage as a result of regional and tribal beliefs. After the FIR was filed, the Federal Shariah Court Chief Justice took suo-motu notice of the situation and stated that the act appeared to be against both the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Islam.

Factors behind forced marriages in Pakistan

There are several factors why early age marriages are prevalent in Pakistan. The majority of these causes include: permissive legislation; a failure to enforce existing laws; the treatment of children as slaves; a primitive feudal class fabric; lack of public awareness of the negative effects of child marriages; widespread poverty; Watta Satta (Weddings between the children of siblings or the exchange of girls in marriage between two households.) underlying trafficking; Concept of Vani (Another harmful tradition is the offering of girls, frequently minors, in marriage or enslavement to a family who has wronged them as payment to settle disputes) and a lack of political will on the part of the government. The inadequacy of birth registration system and lack of responsiveness is a major contributor to forced marriages. The age of the child or children at the time of marriage can be falsified because birth registration for minors, especially girls, is hardly given priority here. Moreover, there is no unified, impartial, or robust child rights associations that might keep an eye on violations of children’s rights, specially female teens.

Legislations

The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011, which has “reinforced protections for women against discrimination and abuse,” was passed in Pakistan in 2012, according to the country’s National UPR report to the HRC. Forced marriages, child marriages, and other social customs that are harmful to women are being made illegal.

The following headings represent how the Committee on the Rights of the Child addressed the problem of child or early marriages in its Final Report and Recommendations (2009): the child’s definition, Non-discrimination, respecting the child’s opinions, teenagers’ health, harmful societal customs, Trafficking and selling

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, whose Article 16 affirms that every woman has the right to get into matrimony “just with her free and unconditional approval,” have both been signed and ratified by Pakistan.

Pakistan has joined the Child Rights Convention, which requires state parties to uphold children’s rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion in Article 14.

The Sindh Provisional Assembly unanimously approved the Bill on November 2016 to put an end to forced marriages and conversions. The bill was compellingly prevented by the agitation of the Islamist groups and parties, and was never enacted into law.

Recommendations

First, it seems that nobody in Pakistan, including a lot of women, cares about the precarious status of women. In reality, some educated working women are subjected to so much harassment from men, their families, and society at large that they lack the strength to fight back against their critics. Therefore, the small group of women representatives campaigning for the rights of marginalised women in Pakistan deserve special recognition for their bravery in standing up for and promoting women’s rights despite the fact that doing so would subject them to harassment from males and society.

The government should spend on education particularly in marginalized areas of Pakistan where majority girls have no access to even primary education. Instead of just being a consequence of financial adversity, social conservatism may also contribute to the educational disparity between boys and girls. Long-term policy considerations need to be taken. Lack of maternal education would have a detrimental impact on future generations and is, therefore, just as important as boys’ education because it is believed that mothers’ education plays a significant part in children’s overall development and a complete generation.

Forced marriage victims are also denied access to their most basic yet important right, good education. Here, I want to share a story of a 17 year old advocate fighting child marriages from Swat. Given that it was customary in her household for girls to enter into marriage when they are old enough to fetch water, she was getting married to a taxi driver just at tender age of 11. In an interview, she stated:

“I bravely told my family that if they get me married to that person, I will file a case against them in law. Firstly, them and my community didn’t support me, even denigrated me. But now they do. One human being with conviction can bring the change”

Moreover, police need to be given the capacity to look into the culprits and take appropriate action. I definitely do not mean “Freedom From Law” or “No Accountability” when I talk about empowerment. To ensure that the complaints filed get noticed and are addressed, rigorous policies regarding the institution of police must be devised and put into effect along with increase in the severity of punishments for such activities.

All those engaged in a child marriage, including the parents of the bride and groom as well as the person who solemnises the marriage; the NikahKhwan shall face serious punishment.

The legal age for marriage should be the same for both sexes, which is 18 years. However, the system for registering births needs to be improved. Nadra needs to implement a digital birth registration system that is systematic and reliable.

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