Kenya Side By Side Chapter speaks on two-thirds gender principle

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By Jane Machira

August 24th was a memorable and historic day in the push for gender justice in Kenya – courtesy of Side By Side Kenya Chapter. Faith leaders under the auspices of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Seventh Day Adventists (SDA), Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK) and Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC) gathered at Ol Lerai Jumuia Place to deliberate on the Two Thirds Gender Rule enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution, and which has been elusive due to lack of political goodwill.

Two Thirds Gender Rule

The promulgation of the new Constitution on August 27th 2010 secured the right of women to participate in democratic governance. A significant provision of the Constitution in Article 27(8) states that the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender. The deadline for the Kenya parliament to deliver a legal framework for the implementation of the above principle was meant to be 27th August 2015. However this deadline was not met and the Supreme Court issued an extension of one year, the deadline being 27th August 2016. It was against this background that religious leaders gathered together to have a common position and lobby the government and policy makers to respect and deliver a framework for implementation.

The event, which attracted over 60 faith leaders and constitution experts, came at a time when gender activists and women movements have grown weary and almost losing the battle on the issue. The entry of faith leaders to the debate was remarkable given the patriarchal nature of the church. They took time to reflect on scriptures as recorded in Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” which reminds us that in God’s eyes, both men and women are equal. Through biblical reflections and devotion they gained the scriptural momentum to engage and declare their position and push for the two thirds gender rule. They also recognized that the country cannot realize its full potential and destiny “until we harness the full gifting and abilities of all Kenyans and especially women who have been systematically marginalized”.

Faith leaders had invited constitutional experts to help them interpret the provisions and implications of not implementing the principle. The experts had well researched information, eg, the cost of having more women in parliament to meet the threshold, to help them understand the politics being used to deny women adequate positions in parliament. Christian Aid participated as a facilitator to contextualise the forum within Side by Side global strategies and our strategy’ Gender Justice for All’.

The Kenya Side By Side Chapter outlined its priorities in the coming period , emphasizing that the Two Thirds Gender Rule is the most pressing and urgent to create a strong foundation for gender justice and rule of law in this country. The experts from Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) outline the various efforts and dialogues that have been held in the past in an attempt to pass the Bills. This was followed by a presentation from a constitutional expert who is trusted by the churches who helped to present scenarios and the role of church leaders as mediators and dialogue facilitators with the executive.

Questions Requiring Answers

Faith leaders wanted a few things clarified first before they engaged and made a resolution. Some wanted to know the Christian Aid (sponsor) position on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) matters, the question behind the question being Christian Aid’s position on sexuality and other reproductive health issues that religious leaders are against such as abortion and contraception (for the Catholics). I responded tactfully, recognizing their values and norms that they hold. Some also raised issues about the definition of gender justice and in particular the issue of “equitable power relations”. They argued the man is the head of the family, and challenged the statement. Interesting enough the question of power relations was from women rather than men, who also took issue with a facilitator who said that marriage disadvantages women in the political context. The moderator of the forum Rev Canon Karanja, General Secretary of NCCK, was very forthright in his response and helped to demystify equitable power relations. He also encouraged faith leaders to get out of their comfort zone and know they live in a secular world, and must be aware and appreciative of the changing values, and not to be judgmental. They must be alive and relevant to the changing world without compromising the values of the church. Rev Karanja gave big credentials to Christian Aid, adding that our values and commitment to gender and ending poverty have enabled the partnership which spans over decades. He made a request to Christian Aid to support training of faith leaders on Gender Justice and Theology to increase their capacity on the subject and engage more meaningfully and intelligently. Faith leaders were happy with the responses and much at ease to proceed to the resolutions.

Resolutions, Communiqué and Message to Congregations

This was an exciting part of the forum. Use of English grammar became very important as religious leaders went through the resolutions word for word, line by line, to make sure their communication was clear and well understood, without bias. Their resolutions were packaged in a communiqué that was read to the media people and journalists who thronged Jumuia Place to witness and record the pronouncements and the ground breaking event.

They issued a Press Statement [read here] which was covered live by one of the national media houses and a major news item in NTV prime news at 9:00pm. The media people were given the statement which was jointly signed by representatives from Kenya Catholic Bishops, National Council of Churches of Kenya, Organization of African Instituted Churches, Seventh Day Adventists, and Evangelical Alliance of Kenya. It was a phenomenal moment. During questions and answers, journalists requested responses in English, Kiswahili and Kikuyu, a reflection of the importance of the statement to the Kenyan public.

Congregational Message and Devotional Card

A message and communiqué were also developed for the congregations to create awareness on gender justice and to push the gender principle from the grassroots. “Brothers and Sisters” the message read, appealing to congregations to engage with the debate. This message will be shared with congregations as part of civic education and awareness process on gender justice by faith leaders.

Social Media Engagement

The forum was the most trending on social media today on #FaithforGenderJustice. Over 3.2 million followers had been recorded online by the time of issuing the press statement, overtaking the President’s event that was number two. The conversations will be sustained on social media.

Conclusion:

By the time of issuing the press statement, the Senate which was expected to vote for the Bill yesterday failed due to lack of quorum – the usual game that has been played in the past http://www.nation.co.ke/news/politics/Churches-slam-Senate-over-failure-to-vote-on-gender-Bill/1064-3357108-ru5dpu/index.html. Faith leaders will need to sustain the pressure as their entry into the debate is likely to be a game changer.

Posted by: Terrie Robinson | Friday, August 26th, 2016
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