JOHN HARRINGTON NDETA: Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk: Lessons for women's rights crusaders from Iceland
1 weeks ago, 00:12
Iceland has been ranked first in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for the ninth year in a row. But what is their secret to this huge success in the gender struggle? A look at the history of Iceland reveals that gender equality does not come about of its own accord. It requires the collective action and solidarity of women's rights defenders, political will, legislation, gender mainstreaming among others.
Like any other community elsewhere, the gender equality journey in Iceland has been influenced by cultural, political, religious, social, academic and economic currents that have washed ashore and been domestically cultivated and created.
Women’s struggle against discrimination began more than 1,000 years ago and only started to show signs of success in 1914 and 1915, when women were granted the right to vote and run for political seats in Iceland. However, there was a huge gap between the progressive, rights-based law development and prevalent cultural norms and societal reality, which kept men in their place of power. Women in developing countries today find themselves in a similar scenario, with all manner of laws in place that are shrouded in cultural norms.
It is therefore little wonder that the Kenyan women's rights crusaders' efforts seem to be bearing very little fruit to date. There is a lot that Kenyan feminists can learn from Iceland.
Iceland’s incremental progress can firstly be attributed to the solidarity of women's rights defenders challenging and protesting the monopoly of power in the hands of men and the power of men over women. Women’s solidarity by means of political organising was instrumental in promoting gender equality in Iceland. During the period from 1915 to 1983, only two to five per cent of members of Parliament were women.
In 1983, history was made in Iceland when 15 MPs out of 60 elected that year were women. This was attributed to the women’s collective action and solidarity.
In Kenya, however, the adage that “women are their own worst enemies,” seems to reign supreme. In the latest bid to pass the Gender Bill in Parliament, it was reported that only 15 out of the more than 70 women in Parliament were actively involved in lobbying for the Bill. The rest were missing in action, probably because they don’t see the importance of gender equality. With a divided womenfolk, it will be centuries before Kenya gets to where Iceland is today.
Secondly, women in Iceland took power and created alternatives to the male dominant “truths” by making the invisible realities of women visible. They challenged discriminatory practices, including sexual harassment and abuse. Since the passing of Njoki Ndung’u law in 2005 on sexual offences, not many new laws that enhance women's rights have come up in the last 10 years.
That’s in spite of the fact that such laws are compromised on the altar of traditions and corruption aided by women themselves. For women to realise gender parity, they must take power and create their own truth, which will prevail in society. This is no mean task ...
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