This past May 29th — 31st, 2019, I represented Femme International (Femme), at the Open Government Partnerships (OGP) Annual Summit hosted in Ottawa, Canada. Femme is a grassroots level charity using a three-pronged approach; education, distribution, and conversation to empower women and girls in Kenya and Tanzania manage their periods in a safe and sustainable way. Our vision is to build a world where no one is limited by their body’s natural cycle.
The following are my three key takeaways from the summit.
1. Open government partnerships are essential for achieving sustainable impact.
In OGP; governments work with civil society to co-create two-year action plans, with concrete steps and commitments across a broad range of issues. This model allows civil society organizations and direct citizen engagement to play a role in shaping and overseeing governments.
At Femme, we believe that access to accurate menstrual health education and high-quality products are a basic human right. Our research has identified menstruation as a root cause of the gender disparity; creating barriers for women to access opportunities to excel professionally, academically and personally. Last month, Amnesty International-Kenya published infographics depicting the menstruation vs food dilemma faced by up to 65% of women and girls in Kenya. These infographics give a good representation of our experience on the ground and a strong case for menstruation to become a government responsibility.
In spite of notable strides to provide access to menstrual health products and education by the Kenyan Government Section 39(k) of the Basic Education Act, and County First-ladies menstrual health campaign, our research and infographic statistics above, reveal that there is more that needs to be done. I believe that governments will be more effective if they actively and openly foster partnerships with civic space players such as Femme, and other grassroots organizations already tackling these issues to deliver even more powerful impact.
2. To cultivate our goals for more feminist policies, Governments should invite more women to the table!
The plenary at day 2 of the summit was Feminist Open Government (FOGO) day marking the launch of #BreaktheRoles campaign which aims to encourage at least 30% of OGP members to take meaningful action on gender and inclusion in 2019. The campaign identified the patriarchal culture in East Africa as an inhibitor to the implementation of feminist policies. To put it succinctly, they stated that Diversity is a fact; inclusion is a choice!
I concur — this needs to be the operating principle of all governments. I look forward to the effective implementation of the ⅔ gender representation rule provided in Article 81 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. I believe this will bring about a change theory enabling women to participate more actively in government and policy roles thus enabling us to continue working with more supportive, structured, sector-specific policies.
In Tanzania, the current Tax waiver on menstrual products has not been implemented since it was passed last year. Arguments for this debate are centred on business perspectives. The lack of adequate representation by women means that the voices of women in this debate are not amplified. We need more women representatives on the table to get our voices heard and ensure that the trending #Pedibilakodi campaign is effectively implemented, and those taxes waived. Menstruation is not a choice, it is inevitable and women in government would be best placed to guide such a policy.
3. If you are a woman looking for meaningful networks in the #Civitech #opengov #opendata spaces, allow me to introduce you to Open Heroines.
Open Heroines (OH) is an online network of amazing women, situated globally, operating over slack, emails and other forms of interactive and social media. The OH women share materials, tools, ideas, advise, opportunities and information enabling women creating impact around the world become better equipped to continue pushing barriers and being changemakers in their respective countries.
I spent 5 days at the Summit with 16 Heroines from all over the world including, Panama, Brazil, Tunisia, and Kenya. It was a lively cultural exchange experience that cultivated the sharing of ideas, knowledge and skills transfer and as well as build networks with people I would ordinarily never meet but share so much in common. I found that I shared, with others, similar hopes and ideologies, objectives and goals for development and sustainability for my country and for the rest of the world. We have become friends and continue to support one another even after the summit ended.
I am grateful to the government of Canada, Open Heroines, IDRC and OGP for making it possible for Femme to participate in the OGP2019 Summit to present our case for government participation in menstrual health rights.