[16days_discussion] [WorkingWithBoysandMen] Fwd: Kenya's first Gender Festival

Laxman Belbase l.belbase at gmail.com
Mon Jun 8 23:14:54 EDT 2009

*Kenya’s first Gender Festival*

By: L. Muthoni Wanyeki
   Source: The East African News


Posted: 08 June2009

*Kenya’s first ever Gender Festival took place over three days last week. *

Inspired by the now biennial Tanzanian Gender Festival, it brought together
several hundred community-based women’s organisations from across the
country, together with national women’s organisations and networks.

The Festival focused on what people and organisations fighting for women’s
rights have been doing and could do better, particularly in light of what
happened to us all last year.

As Patricia Nyaundi of the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya pointed out at
the start: “Kenya is a country that is ailing... that needs healing.”

Betty Murungi, formerly of the Urgent Action Fund-Africa, pointed to the
fact that what such organisations did here during the crisis was, in fact,
not unique to Kenya — similar work was done by organisations in Asia (Sri
Lanka), Europe (the Balkans) and Africa.

Such organisations are generally flexible in their approach, and

They tend to focus on non-violent resistance to conflict, documentation of
women’s experiences of conflict and service provision to address the most
glaring human rights violations undergone during conflict and the
displacement conflict engenders.

They then, when transitional justice mechanisms are taking off, focus on
political participation as well as electoral, legal and political reform.

Murungi said the challenge for Kenya’s transitional justice mechanisms is
twofold. First, acknowledging that women are not just victims/survivors of
conflict, that some of us also “have blood on our hands.”

And second, while the Kenyan women’s movement pursues justice for what
happened, we must be alert to the normalised and structuralised violence
against women that existed before last year. We must not seek merely to
restore the status quo.

MEN’S ROLES TOO WERE EXPLORED. Dr Willy Mutunga of the Ford Foundation spoke
to the need for men to change their own notions of masculinity and thus
change society.

His suggestion was that sharing in reproductive labour still predominantly
assigned to women — cooking, cleaning, parenting — was one way to address
the crisis of masculinity.

The fact is that many men, of all classes, are no longer able to engage in
productive labour capable of maintaining men’s traditional roles as
protectors and providers.

He also spoke to the growing backlash against the Kenyan women’s movement —
as evidenced by the emergence of organisations like Maendeleo ya Wanaume,
whose recent purported research into the extent of violence committed by
women against men failed to note that the figures are simply not comparable
with the extent (and acceptance) of violence against women.

Usu Mallya of the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme spoke of how
violations of women’s human rights were intrinsically linked to systems of
exclusion — patriarchy and neo-liberalism in particular, as well as the
general crisis of leadership and governance across the continent.

She spoke also of the role of the state in service provision and human
rights promotion.

What did the Gender Festival achieve? Well, it at least pointed to the
potential for overcoming the divisions and fractures that have always
existed in the Kenyan women’s movement — ethnic, generational, religious or

The necessity of doing so is evidenced by the hullabaloo created by the
emergence of the G10 and its call for a sex boycott.

Their original demands for action on agreements reached by the mediation
process may have been lost in the uproar, but they did manage, if
inadvertently, to demonstrate the extent to which Kenyan women’s right to
choose whether, when and how to have sex, including within a marriage are
still violently resisted in many quarters.

If the Gender Festival provided a movement-building forum in which other
kinds of hullabaloo can be created, that could only be a good thing. Hongera
Kenyan women.

*L. Muthoni Wanyeki is executive director of the Kenya Human Rights
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