During 2019, the IFA Central Team carried out all-women mobilizations, film screenings, post screening debates and actions. Through these activities we learnt patriarchal violence was rampant in the region and affected all age groups.
Against this backdrop, IFA organized a community debate between men and women to mark this years International Women's Day on March 8th, in rural Kirinyaga County. Our debate was: What men can do, women can do even better if given an equal opportunity. The aim was to start a community conversation on this years IWD theme "Each for Equal".
The debate started with men earnestly guarding their patriarchal thinking, and women attacking it through kind words. Examples were drawn right from their families - across the villages where women have shown exemplary feats of leadership. The patriarchal thinking and subjective statements from male debaters couldn't help but make me think of my late Grandfather who had five wives. My Grandfather thought that all the best things belong to men, while women were only there to serve men. For him women were like property. Girls were mere investments.
As the debate progressed, I could fathom my grandfather smiling broadly as the male debaters exhibited arrogance, blind cultural thinking and repugnant traditional language that belittle women. Similarly, I could envision him wishing the ground could open up and bury him, listening to the women debaters who exposed that ugly face of patriarchal violence, while bringing out their gains; as enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution.
If my grandfather were alive he would be surprised at how women have taken up economic and leadership roles in the family, community and the country. Just like menfolk, women have taken up space in leadership and decision making positions in all spheres of life.
He'd be surprised that in Article 14 (3) in the Constitution, women have full rights to give citizenship to children. My grandfather would be marvelled by Article 27 (3), which states that men and women have the right to equal treatment including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres - unlike during his time when all his five wives were counted as children or property and were not permitted to venture out of the kitchen.
He would be shocked to the bone to hear from the floor of the debate that Article 60 (f) eliminates gender discrimination in law, customs and practices related to land and property.
This is quite the opposite of his time where his land would be for his sons; also perpetuating patriarchal violence
My polygamous Grandfather would hurriedly re-join his ancestors and forever hold his peace upon listening to female debaters saying that Article 68 (iii) dictates regulation and protection of matrimonial property particularly matrimonial home, during and on termination of marriage. He would let out a loud war cry - for to him women have no such rights, no matter how long they have been in marriage.
While my grandfather is in this second death, we have to continue empowering and encouraging women to agitate for "Each for Equal". The gaps that were highlighted during the debate and need urgent action are:
- Educate women on how to write a will. They can then share this knowledge with their husbands who most of the time die intestate like my grandfather leaving women vulnerable to disinheritance.
- Educate women on basic bookkeeping. This is to record their contribution to the family income, which can come in useful in case of a divorce court case.
- Empower women on self-representation in Court, because patriarchal violence comes in many forms like dispossession, disinheritance and divorce.
- Educate men on the need to have joint accounts with their wives and consult them on family decision of financial spending. This will better the balance for all.
- Educate the society on the need to involve women in decision-making processes at all levels from family to the community.
Story by SK Wandimi and the IFA Central Team