Society’s patriarchal mindset working against women internationally

Arguably, the notion of equal opportunity exists more in theory than in practice. Women’s value has been traditionally conceived in relation to her ability to enable her husband to sire children. Under customary law, a man was allowed to marry as many women as he was capable of taking care of, so long as he had the ability to provide for their children, who in time would increase his wealth. Previously, the first wife in a customary-law marriage had powers to select for her husband the women he would subsequently marry, in order to facilitate harmonious relationships within the family. However, in 2014, the male members of parliament used their majority status to remove this clause from the law,

Evolution of women imprisonment in Kenya 77 thereby allowing men to marry as many women as they chose, with or without the first wife’s approval.[1] It is important to point out that Christian and civil marriages only provide for one wife, and so a couple intending to marry must agree in advance on the form their marriage will take as it cannot be changed subsequently.

During the passing of the controversial Marriage Act bill, the few women parliamentarians had objected and walked out in protest, and the bill was passed in their absence, and later signed into law by the president. Commenting critically on women’s lack of strategic leadership in her article in the Nairobi law monthly magazine, Mwenda Chuma observes that Kenyan ‘women politicians must learn to craft their strategy around’ issues that directly affect women in order to draw women to vote for them

Unfortunately, our women politicians have resulted to just throwing in their hat as it were, without a properly thought out manifesto ... What passes for women’s liberation movement needs clarity of purpose. The issues affecting women can only be best dealt with by women themselves. This has informed political inclusion in other jurisdictions. Issues like maternal mortality, domestic violence, girl child education, early marriages etc are by their nature gender sensitive.

Although sons were more valued under customary law due to the perpetuation of the family lineage through the male line, it was the daughters who brought dowry to the family upon marriage, initially in the form of livestock, such as cows and goats, but now this has been principally replaced by cash. Divorce was despised as it brought shame to both the families, and in some instances compelled the father to return the down’ paid for his daughter. However, this trend is changing. Previously, women remained at home, tending the farm and raising children, whilst men were more likely to be offered opportunities for education and employment. Today, however, women are increasingly offered equal opportunities to education and inheritance of property, as well as equal pay. As a consequence, they are more able to contribute meaningfully to the family’s financial wealth and also acquire personal wealth if they are single.

Frances Heidensohn traces the origins of feminist criminology’ to 1960s, especially in terms of student movements and cultural and social shifts, and observes that the feminist perspectives ‘are the most successful developments in criminologyof the second half of the 20th Century’.[2] in In Kenya, women’s capacity to have their voices heard may be traced to the 1950s and 1960s Female Movement, which had its origins in the Kennedy Airlift whereby the late Tom Mboya airlifted bright Kenyan girls to the USA and the UK to receive a Western education. The first batch, which included the late Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Mathai, Professor Micere Mugo, and Professor Julia Ojiambo, among others, have played a critical role in the empowerment of Kenyan women. However, it was not until 1995, during the Fourth World Conference on Women held in China, that the feminist movement in Kenya was acknowledged, with the government sending a delegate to Beijing to represent Kenyan women. This move opened up the debate on issues affecting women to the general public and consequently a call for greater representation in the political arena. However, in the context of the male-dominated background, the feminist movement in Kenya is a work in progress.

  • [1] Marriage Act Kenya (2014) available at /Acts/TheMarriage_Act2014.pdf accessed 8 January 2019; see also Daily Nation, ‘Uhuru Kenyatta signs Marriage Bill into Law’, available at -assents-to-law-allowing-polygamy/1056-2297540-x731pa/index.htmlhttps://www.nati .html accessed 9 January 2019. 2 Mwenda Chuma, ‘Women Liberation has Come of Age’, The Nairobi Law Monthly, Vol 9 Issue 7 (July-August 2017) 72-73.
  • [2] Frances Heidensohn, ‘The Future Of Feminist Criminology’, Crime, Media, culture, Vol 8 (2) 123-134 August 2012. 2 Mwenda Chuma, ‘Women Liberation has Come of Age’, The Nairobi Law Monthly, Vol 9 Issue 7 (July-August 2017) 72-73. 3 Cecilia Saulters-Tubbs, ‘Prosecutorial and Judicial Treatment of Female Offenders’, Federal Probation - A Journal of Correctional Philosophy and Practise, Administrative of the United States Courts Vol LVII June 1993 No.2, 37, available at Digitization/144740NCJRS.pdf accessed 7 December 2018. 4
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