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It is good for Wanjiku…Good for Kenya

It is said of any Constitution that “if it is appropriate for women, it is appropriate for the Nation”. I could not have put it better – And so, granted your cheerful endorsement, I now stand with you to say, that the draft Constitution “is appropriate and good for our Nation”.

These were the words of Hon Mutula Kilonzo (Minister for justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs) while endorsing the proposed constitution during the Women’s National Conference which was held at Bomas of Kenya on 30th April 2010.

The constitution debate has been rife in Kenya creating discord, emotional out bursts while many feel at long last here is a beacon of hope for Kenyans. Many times I would wake up counting how many days to go before the referendum, then what? The debate on the proposed constitution took many twists and turns with each side pulling and hoping that it carries the day. On my part I was always optimistic that come August 5, we would have a new constitution, and we sure did, and I have my reasons for supporting this.

While the debates have been based on fiction or facts, one person commented that ‘the constitution is personal, so how does it affect you personally?’ While this may be taken to mean that is for a minority people, it in essence mean that each one has a personal stake in this, whether selfish or objective. As a young woman, I only read history of the constitution making process and realise that it has been a long journey. Lancaster House Constitutional Conferences were held in London and Nairobi (1963) to negotiate Kenya’s independence constitution ( Since then amendments have been made on the constitution to address different needs but the need for a new constitution, people driven constitution has been agitation for long. One of the highlights were in 1995/6 When the former president, Daniel T. Moi promised constitutional review would start and National Convention Planning Committee (NCPC), the executive arm of pro-democracy forces who had come together to agitate for constitutional change was formed.

With time a new term entered the Kenyan politics, ‘Wanjiku’ which before this used to be the middle name of some of us ( female), but today it is a name that is used to signify the common woman and man in the context of national politics. The name came to represent the ordinary person "Mwananchi" and general public after former President Daniel arap Moi dismissed the calls for a new constitution saying "Do you think Wanjiku understands what a constitution is?" One of the major milestones was in 2005 when there was a referendum on a new constitution and this failed. Once again there is another chance to make a difference in Kenya with a new constitution, and more than ever before I am so excited about being part of this very important process. While a new constitution in itself will not magically solve all the issues that Kenya has, it sets the stage for transformation.

The committee of Experts (CoE, 2010) in their summary of the CoE process, define a constitution as a set of laws that define the way a country governs itself, the supreme law of the land, an agreement between people on how they want to address their common interests and needs. It further states that a constitution specifies how the government will be constituted, and who will have the power to take which decisions. It also states one of the aims of modern constitutions which is to protect the rights of people and ensure that power is not abused. As I look at the newly passed set of laws how it affects my future as a woman, I am convinced that ‘this is good for the woman, and it is good for Kenya’.

One of the issues that speak to me very strongly is the recognition of women as equal citizens in Kenya with some of the explicit provisions making this clear. The most exciting for me is citizenship where it is through this process of debating the provisions in the proposed constitution that I have realized that my citizenship in Kenya is tied to being the ‘daughter of’ or ‘wife of’. A friend shared how she was finding it difficult to travel with her son since she needs ‘permission from the father of the child’ every time she traveled, since the child is ‘a foreigner’. “So, how does your own flesh and blood become a foreigner?” I wondered and I came to realize the implication of women not being able to confer citizenship to their children. I remember the joke that as young women we need to be careful not to marry non-Kenyans, otherwise we bring up foreigners! It is not funny. The intensity of this was further exemplified when a friend shared how her brother was having difficulties getting a passport due to her parent being a single mother. The provision on citizenship further provides for dual citizenship thus protecting the Kenyans who may go to other countries so that they don’t lose their Kenyan citizenship unless by personal choice. Women will confer citizenship to their spouses. Therefore, every citizen (man or woman) is entitled to the rights, privileges, and benefits of citizenship

The New Constitution provides for equal treatment of women and men in a society where women have mostly been disadvantaged in many areas. The National Values [Art 10] binds all state organs and officers in applying and interpreting the constitution, and the values include equality and equity, including for specific categories [Art 27] which obliges public and private ‘persons’ to respect women where Art 27(3) clearly states that women and men have right to equal treatment including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social sphere. Art 27(6) requires state to take affirmative action measures to remedy the past. One of the areas that women have been discriminated is in the access to decision making positions. The proposed constitution gives provisions to ensure that women are represented in more numbers in the parliament (national assembly and the senate) while having a principle that no more than 2/3rds of either sex are in elective and appointive positions (Art 27(8); 81(b) while also providing that the Chairperson and vice chairperson shall not be of the same gender. The gender requirement in political parties which are the main avenue to access parliament further reinforces this while ability to stand as independent candidates gives room for women and other Kenyans not to be locked out due to party politics.

Other gains include the recognition of matrimonial property and the ownership of land hence protecting women from disinheritance. Article 68(C) (iii) states that “parliament shall enact legislation which shall regulate the recognition and protection of matrimonial property and in particular the matrimonial home during and on the termination of marriage” This is recognition of the injustices women have historically faced in relation of matrimonial property. Women’s rights to matrimonial property have been largely compromised due to the patriarchal order of society that views men as the sole owners of matrimonial property. This greatly places women at a position of disadvantage especially in the event of divorce and separation. Women are left without any property. Their contribution whether financial or not is recognized. While these may seem like gains solely for women it is also a gain for the community as it also protects the children of these women.

These are just some of the gains of women, of Wanjiku and of Kenya.

As a young woman, I have a lot of stake in the New Constitution taking a back seat is not an option. One of my favorite quotes is by Joan Kirner at Women into Power Conference, Adelaide, October 1994 "There is no such thing as being non-political. Just by making a decision to stay out of politics you are making the decision to allow others to shape politics and exert power over you. And if you are alienated from the current political system, then just by staying out of it you do nothing to change it, you simply entrench it." On august 4, 2010 we finally make the deciding vote, the work of making sure that the vote count was not an easy one, but I am glad I was part of this process, and my vote was among the over 6 million!

This document is good for Wanjiku, is good for me, it is good for Kenya. As I reflect on the possible new future, one issue remain constant, the process has made Kenyans much more aware of the civic processes with a keen interest to be part of this process.

YES, a new future is possible.

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