Shape up. That’s the simple message, on the way we treat women, from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
It’s contained in its “concluding observations and recommendations” published on February 2, following consideration of a report presented in Geneva on January 19 by an 11-member Kenyan delegation led by Gender, Children and Social Development minister Naomi Shaban.
That was the seventh periodic report of Kenya since March 9, 1984, when it acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), nicknamed the international bill of rights for women.
The committee notes “positive aspects” of the report — mainly the adoption of a new Constitution which provides for the immediate domestication of CEDAW and includes a comprehensive bill of rights which enhances protection for women.
Then it proceeds to place Kenya on its cross-hairs, noting 21 principal areas of concern, ranging from discriminatory laws and access to justice to stereotypes and harmful practices.
The committee urges Kenya to carry out far-reaching, and in some cases drastic, recommendations.
The committee has 23 members, all women, acknowledged as “experts of high moral standing and competence” in CEDAW matters. The committee’s recommendations for Kenya range from criminalising marital rape to considering bringing kadhis’ courts under the equality provision in the Constitution.
But it is the recommendations to prohibit polygamy, within two years, and to overturn the Echaria case that stand out because they are politically daring.
Polygamy is a deeply ingrained cultural practice. However, the committee wants Kenya to “bring all marriage laws under the prohibition of polygamy”.
And while welcoming steps toward a unified Marriage Bill which provides for the registration of all forms of marriage, the committee says it is concerned that the Marriage Bill, in its current version, does not prohibit polygamy.
Comment: Dream on. The last time that a Christian Missionary wanted to bring into the Kenyan Parliament a resolution that it was not right that Muslim Kenyans could practice polygamy and while Christian Kenyans did not he got a shock: The Christian Parliamentarians agreed with him and legislated that polygamy should be permitted for all Kenyans, Muslim or Christian or Tradionalists.