Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Discrimination of Women through Cultural Practices:Focus on Women in the Kenya TJRC Report

The formation of the Kenya Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was a recommendation of the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee after the aftermath of the 2007 post electoral violence. The commission was formed in 2008 with a mandate to investigate past human rights abuses since independence in 1963 until February 2008. Its constituting Act (the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Act, act no. 6 of 2008) gave the commission the mandate to carry out investigations, to foster truth telling and reconciliation; reparations for victims; gender justice and elements of institutional reforms. It would also recommend prosecutions of those found responsible for gross violations of human rights.
In its final report, the Commission places a special focus on women. The Chapter on Gender and Gross Violation of Human Rights: Focus on Women highlights the different ways that women experience historical injustices and gross violation of human rights.  It also focuses on the special burdens such injustices and violations placed on women as well as the resilient, even triumphant, spirit that many women exhibited in the face of such adversity. In this chapter, the report starts by commenting on the unequal status of men and women in Kenya. It avers that ‘Women have always constituted slightly more than half of Kenya’s population. Despite their strength in numbers, they have not enjoyed equal status with men.’[1]The report states that with the recent constitutional, legislative and institutional reforms aimed at tackling gender discrimination, women have made a gradual advancement but they still continue to be subjects of discrimination.
A testimony by Florence NabwalaWanamole confirmsthe status of women within the Bukusu ethnic community. In this community, preference is given to the boy child. Florence narrated that:
‘The Bukusu girl child is marginalised from the time she is born. When the mother goesto deliver in hospital or at home and the family hears that it is a baby girl, they fold their faces and start saying they wish she had been a boy. If this woman continues getting female children up to the third or fourth born, the husband will not discharge her from hospital. Even her mother in-law will not go for her. They will leave her there because she only bears girls and she is bringing shame to the community. A female child in the Bukusu community starts being discriminated right from birth.’[2]
From this statement we can see that a female child is born into a society that is structured to discriminate her. Thus discrimination against women in Kenya finds justification within cultural spheres.
According to the report discrimination against women has often been manifested through cultural practices. Some of the practices include the payment of dowry or bride price, widow inheritance, child marriages and female genital mutilation.The Commission heard stories of women who testified before it as being victims of these negative cultural practices. These women found the practices undermining as they keep them in a subordinate status and exposes them to human rights violations. One woman who testified on the subject of bride price stated that:
‘Dowry payment has contributed to the abuse [of women]. Some have commercialized it by saying, ‘my daughter is a university graduate, so bring Ksh 400,000 as dowry’, and you can see people discussing as if they are selling something and the men are the ones who discuss, not even the women. […] When it comes to the dowry of our daughters, we should be the ones to talk, not them and it should be minimal, just to seek blessings and not for somebody to think that they own you. Because they paid that dowry, now you are his property. No, we do not want to be the property of somebody.’[3]
Other practices noted by the commission include disinheritance, preference for boys, polygamy, cultural traditions relating to burial and chastisement of wives. According to the commission, greater consequences of violations of human rights were felt by the most vulnerable women. These include: women with disabilities, women living with HIV/Aids, women in the rural areas and women from minority and indigenous communities.
The Commission finds that although discrimination is deeply rooted in patriarchal cultural practices, the state failed to curb these practices. The Commission notes that the state can play a very important role in eliminating this practices as well as empowering women. Among its many recommendations, the TJRC calls on the government to the Gender and Equality Commission to step up measures to raise awareness about harmful cultural practices that adversely affect women’s enjoyment of human rights.

By Brenda Mwale

[1]The Trith Justice and Reconciliation Report Vol 2C at Page 1.
[2] The Trith Justice and Reconciliation Report Vol 2C at Page 19.
[3]The Trith Justice and Reconciliation Report Vol 2C at Page 20.

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