Addressing the first feminist critique – the failure to address systemic and structural violence that tends to affect women disproportionately – was easier for us to address compared to other truth commissions given our broad mandate and, in particular, the requirement that we investigate violations of socioeconomic rights. To better analyze systemic and structural issues, including those related to socio-economic rights, we needed to address effectively the second critique – the failure to encourage active participation of women, a failure that had already been experienced by the Mutua Task Force.
In addition to dedicating specific parts of our statement-taking form to capturing the experience of women; training our statement takers on gender sensitivity, and ensuring a high percentage of female statement takers (43 percent), we also conducted thirty-nine of what we called women’s hearings in each of the places where we held public hearings. Our challenge was not just to encourage women to participate and speak to the Commission, but also to elicit testimony about violations and related issues experienced by them. The experience of previous truth commissions suggests that women who are willing to speak about past violations tend to speak as witnesses and observers concerning incidents that happened to others, usually the male members of their family. The characterization of such testimony as indirect is itself problematic, as it tends to de-emphasize the secondary effects of violations on family members and community members and more fundamentally emphasize the individualistic, rather than community-oriented, aspect of violations. While women may testify about what happened to others in their family or community because they are reluctant to testify about themselves, they may also focus on violations directly experienced by their family and community members because they see themselves as part of those larger social entities and, thus, are more likely than men to see such violations of “others” as affecting them, their families, and their communities directly. Nevertheless, we were concerned that some women might feel reluctant to share their own direct experiences of violations out of fear rather than because they adopted a more holistic approach to violations and their effects.
In addition to holding women’s hearings in each place where we held public hearings, we often had a prominent woman activist from each community testify about the experience of women generally in that community. We were able to do this in part because of the strong working relationship we had developed with Maendeleo ya Wanawake, the largest women’s membership organization in Kenya. We were thus able to explore at the local level some of the broader systemic, institutional, and cultural issues faced by women. To further broaden this analysis, we devoted one of our national thematic hearings to women. The purpose of the thematic hearing was to supplement the individual stories we had heard in the field – both from witnesses as well as local activists – with a more national and even international perspective on the broader systemic issues facing women in Kenya. Continue reading