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Women march slow in Kenya: Kenya November 1981 the plight of Kenyan women is very close to the heart of professor Wangari Maathai--a Kenyan woman. She is an associate professor at the university of Kenya. Here, she talks to Jimoh Omo-Fadaka about feminism.

KENYA HAS NO SPECIFIC ROLES for men relative to those of women since the government declared there would be equal opportunities for both. Legally, Kenyan women are on the same platform as the men, but in some areas the women find themselves at a disadvantage. One of these areas is in our marriage laws, under which women are not seen as equals. Family property belongs to the husband. The law of inheritance should be amended so that widows will be able to inherit all of their husband's property and wealth. A Kenyan woman works very hard towards family income and prosperity. She seems to be doing all the work but has no controlling power to reflect her contribution towards the family prosperity. She is meant to be a provider, not a participant. This situation is true for both urban and rural women.

Kenyan women, unlike women from West Africa, are less assertive about their rights. They usually need approval from their husbands for them to act or perform. West African women are more independent than Kenyan women.


One of the reasons why Kenyan women are less assertive about their rights is due to the political and economic stability in Kenya. Kenyan women enjoy that stability and they appear to be affluent. So why upset the applecart? At least, that is the way they see things.

Some of our traditional customs are rendering women ineffective in national development activities. In the rural areas especially, enrolment in primary schools by girls is hindered by our customs. In some areas, parents do not want to send their daughters to school. They want them to help with household duties and also work on the farm. Later they want the girls to get married and have children.

In other areas, parents do not allow their daughters to proceed to further education. They are prevailed upon to get married. So, on the whole, daughters are looked upon either as sources of cheap labour or avenues to family wealth through marriage. Marriage brings a lot of benefits to the girl's parents through dowry and other obligations to the parents from the daughter's husband.

It is an indisputable fact that Kenyan women play a dominant and central role in national development. However, women's share in the benefits accruing from their production is minimal. Women do most of Kenya's tea farming, cattle, pig and poultry-keeping and raise children. The question is not whether they have a role to play in Kenyan society, but rather how their contribution would be recognised and how they could benefit from their contribution. Kenya cannot achieve proper, meaningful and well-balanced development unless the significant role played by women is recognised.

The National Council of Women of Kenya, drawn from about 19 women's organisations throughout Kenya, of which I am chairman, feels it is its duty to help remove any obstacles to the advancement of women by urging the abolition of traditional norms that discriminate against women, and by trying to change men's negative attitude towards women. Many of the men are playing a selfish role in development by discriminating against womenfolk. We want women to be equal partners with men, not only on paper but in practice. We want women to acquire education, ensure more girls go to school and finish their education, at primary, secondary and university levels. We are succeeding in our aims, but very slowly. Some areas are more difficult than others.

What has happened since

Kenyan women are now much more assertive, and have become an integral part of governance and society.
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Title Annotation:Retrospective
Author:Omo-Fadaka, Jimoh
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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