By Vicky Karimi
Kenya is facing several peace and security challenges. Election-related violence has claimed many lives and displaced many more, cross-border clashes hit the country sporadically, and there has been a proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Further, the country’s geo-political position within the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa creates additional security challenges. More recently, the country has been facing an unprecedented level of terror attacks for its role in sending troops to Somalia in a bid to assist in stabilizing the region. The most recent of these is the massacre of 148 university students in Garissa in April 2015. In addition to pre-existing structural challenges that relegate gender issues to the periphery of peace and security, this fragile context further compromises women’s security.
In October 2015, the world will commemorate the 15th anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. The landmark resolution specifically addresses the situation of women in armed conflict and calls for their participation at all levels of decision-making on conflict resolution and peacebuilding. It recognizes the importance of women’s’ contribution to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Since its adoption, UNSCR 1325 has had a positive effect in the discourse on women’s roles in peace and security, and redefined their position as change agents in the context of conflict. It has made women’s agency and political activism visible and promoted increased acceptance of the various roles women play in conflict and post-conflict situations.
In its Presidential Statements, the Security Council called on member states to implement Resolution 1325 (2000), including through the development of a National Action Plan (NAP) or other national-level strategies. The creation of a NAP provides an opportunity to initiate strategic actions, identify priorities and resources, and determine responsibilities and timeframes at a national level. In recognition that the inclusion of women and gender perspectives in decision-making strengthens the prospects for achieving sustainable peace, Kenya is about to launch its National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325. In doing so, it will join the 48 other countries around the world who have heeded the UN Security Council’s call. Premised on a human security framework, the theme of the plan is ‘Kuhusisha Wanawake ni Kudumisha Amani’ - to involve women is to sustain peace. It comprehensively addresses the four main pillars of the resolution: participation, promotion, protection, and relief and recovery from a country-specific view.
In addition to UNSCR 1325, The Kenya NAP takes into account the existing and robust women, peace and security architecture that includes UNSC Resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122. The plan seeks to achieve coherence with relevant national laws and provide measurable indicators of the implementation of policies for the achievement of sustainable peace and development in Kenya. The Plan is linked to these instruments unequivocally by the Constitution of Kenya (2010), which provides that international laws and norms are part of the laws of Kenya, thereby domesticating international and regional instruments. It is also anchored on the values of gender equality as enshrined in the Constitution as well as Vision 2030 – Kenya’s blueprint for its long-term development.
The plan recognizes that Kenyan civil society has been at the forefront of fighting for gender equality and equity in the country. Indeed, women’s organizations and women’s rights activists working on peacebuilding in Kenya have made significant contributions. Kenyan women have led conflict prevention and management through indigenous early warning and peacebuilding approaches. It is also well known and widely accepted that within their communities, women have long acted as first responders in providing humanitarian support and assistance.
In recognition of these and other efforts, the Kenya NAP was drafted through a participatory process that included a nationwide series of consultations with civil society, women’s rights actors, peace activists and government representatives, and with technical support from UN Women. Further, mapping studies were carried out and best practices incorporated from countries that have previously developed NAPs. The result is a comprehensive document that takes into account the lived realities of Kenyan women, as well as the current security situation. The development of NAPs includes the ‘twinning’ of two countries to share best practices, and technical and financial resources. In this process, Kenya has twinned with the Republic of Finland.
The Kenya NAP, which will be launched later in 2015, if implemented in collaboration with existing planning frameworks and other innovative efforts, has the potential to enhance gender equality and promote women’s participation in peace and security. In this regard, it is important to note that the exclusion of women in peace and security processes points to a greater underlying problem of structural gender inequality. Here, we must keep in mind that women’s contributions have historically been undervalued and underutilized, and we must stress the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security discourses and processes. We must ensure that women are not relegated to the periphery of strategic conversations in peace and security either by design or by omission on the part of mainstream policy actors.
New strategies are therefore needed to enhance the extent to which the hard-earned policy changes can transform lives and deliver the gender-related structural change on the ground. In this way, the NAP can serve as an important aspect of the larger fight for gender equality in Kenya. Addressing the root causes of conflict and historical antecedents to contemporary cycles of violent conflict in Kenya must be at the forefront of these efforts, as should addressing the more contemporary form of conflict that the country now faces – terrorism.
The work for women’s inclusion in peace and security processes in Kenya continues. The upcoming Kenya NAP on UNSCR 1325 presents a new opportunity for the engagement of women in peace and security issues in the country. Indeed, all hands are needed on deck to effectively deal with the old and new security challenges that the country is facing.
Vicky Karimi is a 2015 LLM graduate of the Georgetown Law Center under the Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa Program. She is a Peace and Security Fellow of the Africa Leadership Centre/King’s College, London. She has worked with women in various conflict situations in Africa, and in 2013 participated in the national consultation process that led to the drafting of the Kenya National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325 & 1820.