The present decade has witnessed a visible backlash against gender equality and the women’s human rights agenda across continents – and Kenya is no exception. This backlash has immediate and long-term implications for women, men and individuals who identify as not sexually- or gender-conforming, and for the consolidation of democracy, social cohesion, and economic growth in any country.
Gender inequality undermines the hard-fought values of human rights, equality and freedom embedded in Kenya’s Constitution 2010 and in other national and international instruments that Kenya is a signatory to.
The LGBTQ+ community’s challenges in Kenya continue unabated against the backdrop of social exclusion based on sexual and gender identities. These challenges are increasingly seen as being interdependent and shaped by a multitude of different pressures that converge within the gender and development sector.
With this in mind, and for International Women’s Day 2023, here are five ways Kenya can better #EmbraceEquity.
1. Generating and managing knowledge
The research, co-creation and framing of gender issues can significantly help in understanding gender and patriarchal backlash. There is a need to work with different people and organisations to improve the understanding, nature and forms of this backlash.
Knowledge generation and management can strengthen interactions and debates about gender and patriarchal backlash, and find ways of countering this backlash in different contexts in Kenya. Various actors can draw on their past work and the existing knowledge of how to package, disseminate and add to the evidence of backlash where it is lacking. But we must understand how to communicate research findings without doing more harm. This can be done by properly positioning emerging gender equality issues to inform policy and programming.
2. Positioning policy
It is pivotal for all stakeholders to address the erosion of gender policies and agendas at the national and county levels away from egalitarian ideals. Efforts to change political, socio-economic, cultural, and religious norms along with power relations which prevent gender equality should go together with efforts to identify, disrupt, adjust or dismantle policies, structures and systems which reinforce negative norms and stereotypes that strengthen gender backlash.
Policies should be framed to engage different groups of men and boys in overcoming gender inequality. It should also help them overcome and address their own gender-related vulnerabilities and oppression. This can bring forth a major shift in debates about the ‘boy child’ or generalised ideas about ‘men in crisis’, thus guarding against victim blaming and the impression that women empowerment is being advanced at the expense of men and boys.
3. Transforming attitudes and social norms
Enabling an environment to change attitudes and social norms needs to be informed by contexts. Decision-makers should put in place efforts to support communities in confronting stereotypes, attitudes, values and structures that perpetuate social exclusion and promote gender backlash. This can be achieved by consolidating and building upon knowledge and practices that inspire action among different groups in addressing social justice issues. Ultimately, this requires structural and systemic transformations towards favourable social norms, attitudes and behaviours at institutional, community and individual levels.
4. Promoting accountability
There must be more work done with men through gender transformative approaches to address negative social norms. This should also extend to encouraging dialogue between male activists to support Women’s Rights Organisations (WROs) on accountability with regards to development and gender equality agenda. This is because a lot of men are experiencing hesitancy leading to shifting roles toward gender equality. This is particularly important in the socio-cultural space between what used to be and what is currently expected in the human rights space.
Working with men and boys for gender equality is crucial. A comprehensive engagement process is needed to ensure that women are not targeted or ostracised by men in the belief that measures to address entrenched gender inequality are unfair and a form of ‘reverse discrimination’. Working with men and boys to address underlying social norms and help them become more gender-equitable and address their own gender-related vulnerabilities will help to counter patriarchal backlash on a large scale.
5. Building advocacy and movements
Kenya is a signatory to many international treaties, conventions and instruments on gender equality and human rights. There is a need for like-minded partners and stakeholders in the field of gender justice, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Women’s Rights Organizations, feminists, and male allies to forge strong alliances to advocate for the fulfilment of the commitments made by the government
CSOs and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) have acted as catalysts and progress leaders in legislative and policy developments over the years. Advocates for Social Change Kenya (ADSOCK) alongside organisations such as the Wangu Kanja Foundation (WKF), Center for Rights Awareness and Education (CREAW), African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET), Collaborative Center for Gender and Development (CCGD), Gender Violence Recovery Center (GVRC) among others, have been in the forefront in advocating and championing for gender equality including addressing the rights of survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Kenya.
It is critical for all actors in every sphere of society to openly condemn all forms of gender inequalities. They can do this by providing the impetus to confront the environments where social exclusion and discrimination are rationalised, justified, internalised, normalised, and allowed to thrive. An equal world where everyone’s rights are respected, protected, preserved and promoted is possible. We must #EmbraceEquity!