I like to consider myself social and especially now that we live in the digital age, social media grants me the opportunity to engage with the world, learn and voice my opinions on issues from the comfort of my phone’s keypad. How cool is this? It is through twitter that I learnt that the BBC Global Questions would be hosted in Nairobi. Of importance to me was that the particular production would focus on analysing the gains, challenges and lessons learnt during the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in Africa. This was interesting and certainly a space I was interested in being part of, the dynamic  and insightful panel. The panel included Dr. Babatunde, the Executive Director of UNFPA, Lady justice Njoki Ndung’u who is the only female supreme court  judge in Kenya, Rwanda’s minister of foreign affairs, an MP from Kenya and a young woman from Sierra Leone working with an organization that works to advance choice for young women & girls.

The organic formation of the debate was quite the reflection of the divergent views on issues that affect the advancement of women and girls rights. Ranging from cultural and religious fundamentalism to utter depiction of male privilege, power and influence. The debate touched on subjects such as Female genital mutilation, women’s political participation, economic empowerment of rural women and girls and violence against women.

This is where I stand on issues…………

To pick on a few of the points raised during the discourse, there emerged a heated debate on choice as relates to female genital mutilation(FGM). I hope you are as shocked as I am in reflecting female genital mutilation as a  subject of choice, why I say this is to reflect the backdrop against which the three hundred million women and girls who have been victims of  FGM have found themselves in. For the most part there was echoing consensus from the majority of the panel on the need to allow for women and girls the space, legislative support and enabling legal framework to advance choice, voice and agency. What form that takes is what the panel discussions took on, the MP from Kenya tended to express quite conservative views, supporting polygamy and articulating FGM as correct if sanctioned by parents of minors, the young lady from Sierra Leonne articulated her experience with the practice as a choice and an opportunity for her to feel part of a community. These reasons though valid (especially for an educated elite young woman of 21 year old whose choice to undergo FGM comes from the strong need to belong do not resonate with the reality of millions of girls whose lives are put at risk every time culture demands that choice to their bodies and what happens to them is taken away from them. Neither does it reflect the millions of women whose lives are put at risk during child birth because of the horrific nor non-therapeutic, invasive procedure their bodies are put through.

The question of women’s economic empowerment also raises the discussion on women’s access to productive resources. We cannot speak of women’ economic empowerment while relegating their participation in the labour force to the bottom of the food chain. This is depicted by the 26% global gap on women’s labour force participation.  At the same time the less than 20% of women at top management positions in corporations and a persistent gender pay gap across the globe. The larger picture denotes under representation, a persistent pervasive culture of exclusion and need for more hard work. Yet this is 20years after the adoption of the historic Beijing Platform of Action. As African countries towards progressive inheritance legislation, gender disparities in access to factors and drivers of production continue to persist between men and women. Countries like Rwanda whose Minister of Foreign affairs was on the panel have progressive legislation that allow women to own and use land for productive reasons. This is not the reality in many African countries even though unemployment persists amongst young people and young women are more disenfranchised. Enabling access to credit(not micro credit) is one of the interventions that would guarantee accelerated trajectory towards women’s economic empowerment.

Where does this get us to???????

The dynamic conversation brought to the fore difficult conversations, those that are essential if we are to make strides for women and girls. Gains made by and for women and girls in the past 20years since the adoption of the Beijing platform have come with a lot of struggles, civil action and strong movement building. This has been backed up by a critical and fundamental critique of the status quo, women and girls have had to speak truth to power and challenge the existing patriarchal power dynamics in a huge way.

We hope the world continues to evolve to become a better place for women and girls, more so especially towards the realization of basic rights and as we seek to have women stand on equal ground with their male counterparts.

Catherine is a Mandela Fellow 2016, Women Deliver Young Leader and member of Youth RISE International working group. Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, and sits on the SDGs Kenya Forum coordination committee. Catherine has engaged with various global and regional policy processes such as ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 and the post 2015 development agenda. She co-authored the article ‘Leave No One Behind; Will African Women be left behind in the post 2015 development agenda ,an article published on the East African Business Monthly in February 2015. Catherine launched the #SRHRDialogues, an online advocacy and awareness raising platform on SRHR and #YAFDialogues, an online platform anticipated to be a permanent mobilizing platforms borne out of an African feminist dialogue 2015 in Accra. Follow her on Twitter: @catherinenyamb1

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