Obama Addresses Kenya on Women’s Rights

              Obama addressing Nairobi crowd. Image from The Guardian.               Watch the speech here. 

              Obama addressing Nairobi crowd. Image from The Guardian.
              Watch the speech here. 

By Anahita Hossein-Pour, Staff Writer

‘Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women in allowing them to maximise their potential, is doomed to fall behind in the global economy.’

These are the words of President Obama in his final address to the Kenyan people, a crowd of up to 5,000 people at the Kasarani sports stadium in Nairobi last Saturday. Amongst his condemnation of anti-gay discrimination and government corruption, women’s rights in Kenya heavily featured as a key area Obama demanded change.

‘There is no reason young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilised society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries, they have no place in the 21st century.’

The speech was received enthusiastically by the crowd, and praised by institutions such as Kenya’s National Gender Equality Commission. The Commission’s Chairperson Winfred Lichuma reiterates Obama’s call for minority and special interest groups to be involved in decision making and planning, but is concerned it will not be that easy.

The constitution ratified in 2010 showed promise for women, for example with clauses paying attention to family planning services and gender parity in political representation. Whilst the constitution was established 5 years ago, Kenyans are still waiting for it to come in to effect. With practical laws needed to apply constitutional rulings, Lichuma warns the possibility ‘the country would remain at crossroads’ if politicians continue to stall their implementation, and thus hinder gender equality.  

Some progress has been made such as the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011, addressing the high prevalence FGM in Kenya. UNICEF statistics in 2008/9 suggested FGM affected 27% of women and girls aged 15-49. Since the act has been enforced, the Kenyan Demographic and Health Survey 2014 found a slight decline in FGM after its prohibition, from 27% to 21%. Whilst there is a slight improvement from 1 in 4 being affected to 1 in 5, there is still a long way to go.

Obama’s sincerity behind his speech is supported by his pledge of $1 billion investment on entrepreneurial projects worldwide, half of which will be used for women and young people. This includes $100 million to support Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initiative, expanding their debt investment for financial institutions supporting small-medium enterprises owned by women.

From the $1 billion worldwide, a significant amount has been committed to sub-Saharan Africa, from US State department and private sector, various funding and programmes will be running over the next 5 years. The funding seems to act on ensuring nations do not ‘fall behind in the global economy.’ Entrepreneurial centres will also be opened in countries such as Kenya and Mali to provide training, resources and education.

IWI supports President Obama’s calls to end harmful practices and traditions towards women, and is encouraged by entrepreneurial schemes that can give women the opportunity to gain economic independence and equity. This specific area can only be truly successful with efficient support from the Kenyan government, and IWI calls for the Kenyan government to take further steps to empower their constitution, to empower Kenyan women in all aspects of their lives.