An event to mark Finland-Kenya 50 years of diplomatic relations was held at the Zen Gardens on 10 June 2015. Under the theme ‘From Rhetoric to Reality - Celebrating the Gains of Women's Political Participation and Economic Empowerment in Kenya and Finland’, this event brought together members of the diplomatic corps, government official and leading women personalities.
After welcoming remarks by H.E. Sofie From-Emmesberger, Ambassador of Finland to Kenya and Jarno Syrjälä, Director-General, Department of Africa and Middle East, guests were engaged in a vibrant panel discussion on the experiences of women's political participation in Kenya and Finland. Contributions by Hon. Dr. Phoebe Asiyo, former MP, promoter of gender equality, Hon. Martha Karua, former Minister of Justice of Kenya, former MP, and Rev. Timothy Njoya, activist and founder of NGO "Men for Equality" brought to the fore the strides achieved through active participation of women in political and economic empowerment. Finland was represented in the panel by Ms. Aila Paloniemi an MP from Finnish parliament. The panelists shared view that women are still far from meeting the gender quota of representation in the parliament though the current government has played a key role in increasing the number of women in high-level positions. Currently 31% of Cabinet Secretaries in Kenya are women. The panel emphasized education and re-engineering of culture.
Hon. Martha Karua, a Presidential candidate in the last elections and a Former Minister of Justice and former MP, said that there’s need to give women economic opportunities, social justice and access to education. She emphasized that it all starts from education and we need to re-engineer our culture. It is not about women only but also about men in the Kenyan society. Another panel discussed economic barriers for women to go into business and make them successful. Most women in Kenya work in informal sector and they don’t have access to finance. Panelists cited that women don’t climb high in the corporate ladder, with culture seen as a barrier in accepting women in corporate high positions.
Helena Tapper, who represented GESCI at the event, opinioned that there are similarities between Finland and Kenya in women’s role in politics and business. Finland is ahead but the key is education and access to opportunities in politics and business. Empowerment doesn’t come from outside but should be rooted in everyone starting from the family and community, and embedded in the education system.
There is no doubt that there have been advancements in increasing women’s political and economic participation globally. “It will take well-grounded public policies, an integrated approach and long-term commitment from all stakeholders to achieve women’s economic and political empowerment – as one of the factors that would add to sustainable development and realization of most of the MDGs,” concluded Jarno Syrjälä, Director-General, Department of Africa and Middle East.