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Women's Ministry Scrapped
By Judith Achieng', IPS, 27 February 1998
NAIROBI, Feb 27 (IPS) -- Hardly a fortnight after it was formed, the Kenyan government has scrapped the Ministry of Women and Youth Affairs, leaving women activists convinced that they lost political muscle during the last general elections.
"We are extremely disappointed with the dissolution of the recently created Ministry of Women and Youth Affairs," said Jean Kamau, executive director of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya).
In a statement, made available to IPS this week, Kamau said the creation of the ministry had been a sign that the government was committed to addressing the plight of women as a disadvantaged group in Kenya.
Women's groups in this East African nation welcomed the new ministry which was the first ever for Kenya, even though President Daniel arap Moi appointed Hussein Maalim, a male, to head it.
In an apparent move to placate the growing concern by women groups, President Moi appointed Marere Wamwachai, the only woman who made it to parliament on the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) ticket, as Maalim's assistant.
President Moi gave no reason for dissolving the ministry on Feb. 17, but he moved Maalim and Wamwachai to other departments.
Women were not alone in expressing their dismay at the government's action. "That was the highest level of contempt the government could possibly show towards more than half of its population," says Milton Obote, a University lecturer here.
Given a choice, FIDA and other women's organisations would have preferred the ministry to remain untouched. "The creation of a ministry focusing on women's problems is an indication of sensitivity to women's issues," said Kamau of FIDA-Kenya.
She and the others saw the ministry as a place where women could meet and address their common problems.
They had hoped to push the government, through the ministry, to address itself to the Beijing Platform for Action which despite the government's assurances, is yet to be implemented in Kenya. Adopted in 1995 at the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing, the Platform recognises women rights as basic human rights.
Women had also hoped to channel, through the ministry, their recommendations for a legislation which would explicitly define the rights and the status of women, particularly on their rights to own land and property. There is none currently in Kenya, leaving traditional customs to dictate the status of women.
A key concern in Kenya is the continued underepresentation of women in parliament, despite the fact that women form 52 percent of Kenya's estimated 30 million people.
Currently, there are only eight women as opposed to 210 male legislators in the Kenyan parliament. Of the eight, not one is in Moi's 25-member cabinet.
"The current 204 to eight ratio of men to women in the parliament is a sad reality of the place of women in the political field in a country where women form the majority of the population," says Berewa Jommo of the African Community Education Network, a non-governmental organisation (ngo), which promotes community development in rural areas.
Obote believes that the ministry's two-week lifespan was only a plan to quell women's anxiety over their place in government, immediately after performing poorly in the Dec. 29 general elections where only four women out of the 50 who contested parliamentary positions were elected. The other four women in Parliament were nominated by President Moi.
Although they participate in many economic activities like producing more than 80 percent of Kenya's food, women have continued to play a marginal role in both the political and economic life of the country since it became independent from Britain in 1963.
"None of the senior government appointments demonstrate commitment to women's issues," said Kamau. "We would have expected more of the women nominated members of parliament to be given extra responsibility in the spirit of affirmative action," she added.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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