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Opinion piece by Ms Zebib Kavuma & Siddharth Chatterjee

Consider this. A young girl called Amina Mohamed who is the 8th of 9 children, from a modest Muslim home in Kakamega County in Kenya was encouraged by her parents to complete her education and pursue her dreams.  

Amina Mohamed is Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the first woman to Chair the World Trade Organization and is credited for enhancing Kenya’s global image.   

Through sheer grit, determination and a passion for the impossible, Amina a woman from ordinary circumstances went on to doing extraordinary things. Amina showed that women must persist in breaking down gender stereotypes and other barriers obstructing them from reaching their full potential.  

On 13 August 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya celebrated thirty years since the fourth world conference on women that brought together gender and women affairs ministers from across the continent to take stock of the progress made in the African women movement since the conference.  

 “The Constitution imposes a duty on the State to use legislative and other measures, including affirmative action, to realize gender equality,” said President Kenyatta during the opening of theNairobi +30 conference.  

Kenya is involved in a healthy debate around gender and governance, primarily focusing on increasing the number of women not only in parliament but also in political parties.   

The Constitution of Kenya 2010, in a bid to promote gender equality, provides that not more than two thirds of members of elective and appointed bodies should be of the same gender.  The unsolved controversy in how to realize the Two-Thirds Gender Principle is still being debated well past the deadline set by the Attorney General and could bring Kenya on the brink of a constitutional crisis.  

Commonwealth report shows that Kenya also trails its neighbors in the share of women in Cabinet, parastatal directorships and top civil service jobs.  

The global average of women holding parliamentary seats remains around 20 per cent, which is well below the thirty per cent target set in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and in the MDGs. Rwanda is the only country with the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world, currently at over 60 per cent.  

Kenya has also drafted the National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and related Resolutions. The Action Plan recommends enforcement of laws that promote gender equality, inclusion and engagement of women in mechanisms for prevention, management and resolution of conflict at all levels of decision making. The plan now needs to be launched and implemented.  

As President Barack Obama said during his visit to Kenya, one half of the team has been left out of the game for too long.  It is time to reconfigure power relations; it is time for us to transform traditional perceptions of manhood and it is time to engage fully the one half of the team that has been given only token participation.  

How will we know that we are fully involving women?  That will happen when women begin having equal rights, and equal access to justice, power, resources and opportunities; when women and girls live free from all forms of violence and discrimination; when women begin making decisions about their bodies, health, sexuality and reproductive rights; and when women begin working for equal pay with men doing the same jobs.  

It will also be the time when harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and child marriages are eradicated, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  

The constitutional provision of devolved governance, with its emphasis on decentralized processes and principles of accountability and inclusiveness, has created a perfect opportunity for a country with better choices, opportunities, access to resources and life outcomes for women.  

A much overlooked prerequisite to achievement of development, peace and sustainability is gender equality which will result in improved educational outcomes, better health and greater economic prosperity. It will help Kenya reap a demographic dividend which could bolster the country's GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present.  

What is required now is committed identification and addressing barriers to gender equality in county-specific cultures and institutions. This information can provide entry points for transformation.  

Women are half of Kenya's demographic dividend and are the engines that will fuel Kenya's economic growth.

Ms Zebib Kavuma (@zkavuma) is the UN Women Country Director to Kenya. Mr Siddharth Chatterjee (@sidchat1) is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.