Many seasons ago, my grandmother dressed me and my brother in our Sunday best and shepherded us to a bus stop. My parents were abroad and she was taking us for an interview at a primary school. The white headmaster, no doubt unimpressed by our Sunday best, which was really our “village best”, and our slippery grasp of the English language, declined to admit us to the school. My grandmother, whose English was non-existent and her Swahili threadbare, muttered audibly in Kikuyu, “And yet you will take them whether you want to or not.”
That image of my grandmother — female, black, uneducated and poor — speaking defiantly to the headmaster — male, white, educated and wealthy — has remained, for me, an enduring symbol of courage.
From then on, the degrading whispers I heard about women and their treatment in the village struck me as fundamentally and totally unjust.
That cold day in Limuru, in the gentrified offices of the headmaster, I understood, in a disjointed yet powerful way, a woman’s power and her claim to full citizenship and equality.
The status of women in Kenya has been a case of two steps forward and one step back. Today, we boast record numbers of girls in schools and universities. Yet there are large numbers of girls who are forced into early marriages.
Millions of others are forced to undergo female genital mutilation, a practice which, in another forum, I have called “a crime against humanity”.
Women remain woefully underrepresented in political and economic spheres.
Despite improving judicial protection of women against violence, one in three women in Kenya, according to a UN representative, has been a victim of gender-based violence.
In the 2007/8 post-election violence, rape was used as a weapon of war.
In recent times, we have witnessed cases of women having their limbs chopped off by husbands or boyfriends. There has also been a spike in cases of femicide. Incredibly, songs glorifying violence against women and femicide get airplay on radio and on social media sites.
The theme of this year’s International Day for Women was “Each for Equal”, which means that each one of us — men and women, state and non-state actors — should play their part in making gender equality a reality.
It is disheartening, therefore, that Kenya has allowed into the country a Congolese musician who had been expelled from the country a few years ago for assaulting a woman in full glare of cameras.
What kind of signal is the Kenya sending when it allows a perpetrator of gender-based violence into the country?
Kenya’s commitment to ending gender violence must be matched by its actions
Allowing the artiste into the country is adding insult to injury to the victims of gender-based violence in Kenya and a mockery of the meaning of International Women’s Day.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator