Farah G [pseudonym], Executive Director of a grassroots NGO, Kenya
1. What is your name and your organization?
My name is Farah G [pseudonym], I’m the executive director of [redacted name] Kenya which is a national movement of grassroots women. We are working in 16 counties, now headed to 17 across the country and our mission is to facilitate the effective engagement of grassroots women in development at different levels; at community, at national level and also in the global development space.
2. Are you and/or your organization formally involved in any of the following activities?
a) Women’s Rights Issues
b) Gender equality
c) The Open Government Partnership
If yes, please describe your level of involvement in each.
It’s women’s rights and empowerment, that’s our core focus area and we are doing that because we believe 100 percent in gender equality and the problem of today is that women are not fully empowered, so that’s why we are focused on women’s rights and women empowerment as our contribution towards gender equality.
3. Are you familiar with what the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is? If yes, please describe what the OGP is, in your opinion.
Recently I got engaged in the OGP conversation at the national level when the team was developing the National Action Plan. I had seen it on social media or email and all that but I didn’t read too much out of that until when I was invited to engage in that space. That’s when I got to learn about the OGP.
I would say the OGP is an accountability space. It is a space where people who are really committed and passionate about democratic governance, because open governance is about democratic governance, pull together and commit to actually achieve this kind of governance and actually set some action plan on how they are going to move together towards this. They may be government, they may be civil society, they could be private sector but I think the one in Kenya currently is more dominated by civil society and government. I didn’t get to see a huge voice of private sector and even within that space I could tell the civil society for who we are as the Kenyan civil society. We had given a stronger voice in the partnership.
4. Have you attended any OGP meetings or participated in any OGP processes for previous or current National Action Plans (NAPs)?
Yes. I attended in the development of the current action plan but there was a report that was presented there before. I think it was the report of the previous action plan and I do remember that I actually gave input that was leaning more towards women rights women empowerment as part of the whole conversation on governance. I was very specific on what should go to the action plan. I was extremely specific.
b) If you haven’t, why is this the case? Did you opt out of participating or were you not aware of the convening? Do you have any other reasons for not participating in OGP?
5. In your opinion, what does meaningful participation in OGP mean? Why do you say so?
I think one is the form of participation that considers that in development there are very diverse actors and stakeholders and all of them have a right to participate and a right to be heard. Recognising that as a principle but realizing that the engagement of these different diverse stakeholders will not happen by itself. There must be some deliberate action that we take as the duty bearers as the leaders to facilitate those diverse groups to participate effectively. If you think about the women, the youth, the people living with disability, people with a certain form of orientation, each of these categories of people have their own barriers but they also have their own priorities. They have priorities but there are barriers to their communication and so if we actually want to enhance participation first of all it is to remove the assumption that the space is open, so let everybody engage. How open is open, and how are people equipped to take advantage of that space? That is a very basic assumption and it definitely undermines the level of participation that we all wish for.
It is to realize that we are very different. We must have a deliberate action to enable women to participate, to enable girls to participate and that means removing all the barriers around them that bar them from and they are different for every category of people.
6. In your opinion, have women and other minority groups been engaged meaningfully in the past in both OGP or other policy making processes? If yes, in what ways do you think these groups have these groups been engaged in OGP and/or other policy-making processes?
I don’t think so and I would want to imagine that it is already a self-evaluation that the OGP has done that’s how they reached out to [REDACTED ORG NAME] because even when I received the communication from them, it was that they wanted to include more the voices of women and girls in the OGP. I would say it’s not an issue that has featured prominently and it is a problem that is beyond the OGP.
I find that people do not think that the gender equality concept is part of governance. Most people don’t think like that. In fact, people do not even think that gender inequality in about inequality. When you talk about inequality they think it is about poverty inequality, ethnic inequality, gender inequality will not prominently as a main thing. Probably this is because of the patriarchal society that we have all grown into. There’s this idea of having gender inequality as a stand-alone something on the side in the periphery as a sub-sector on the side that we can pick as we go. So it’s not actually accepted, even though it is included in most legal documents, it is not accepted by us as a people, as a principle of good governance. So we definitely need to definitely start doing more, start doing the right thing by engaging women.
7. What would you say are practical ways in which women can be included or engaged more effectively in OGP processes?
I think first is to get to listen to them and understand what kind of governance system they envision for themselves in their day to day interactions with government, with institutions that are responsible for public service delivery. What are the things that they always wish for, the things that they though if actually they were improved, I’m talking about governance issues, then the women and girls could get out of the poverty that they are living in today or the inequalities that work against them can actually be minimized. It is getting to understand what it is that the women see as the ideal form of governance system or governance principle. That way, their wishes, their thoughts, their priorities form part of the commitments that us as the OGP would be working towards. So it is listening to their voices.
Listening to women’s voices here does not mean through representatives. I think we have reached level where people want to speak for themselves, we have tried this issue of representation even through our basic institution like parliament, it doesn’t work. You see people speaking and claiming to speak on other people’s behalf but actually the people the claim to speak on behalf of have no idea what this lady or gentleman is talking about.
As a country because we have put together a structure that would enable us to reach people through the devolved government, leveraging on that structure, we can listen to the voices of women and girls directly without having to incur too much in terms of costs/financial resources.
For me, I would for the other model of listening directly to women and girls. That is the new spirit, people should speak for themselves.
8. Have there been any commitments in previous National Action plans that you feel were targeted at including women and other minority groups?
In the current action plan, which is the one I am familiar with, there was none when the draft was presented but we were able to give input. During the discussion, people were very candid, very open. We actually gave so much feedback to a point one of the gentlemen said, ‘hold on let us try and pick what is the most strategic thing to push for through this space’ because there are other spaces through which we are already pushing for the things that we are proposing here and we cannot overload the OGP. If you overload it, we make it dysfunctional. I think we tried to come out with a good action plan. I haven’t seen the final one, I would love to see what the final one look like, what came out of it. I remember I was talking about open data in land managements in the country because it has been a big thing. It seems like even with the access to information provision in the constitution, land information is still held in a lot of secrecy and there is a lot of hoarding or deliberate refusal to produce information on land.
9. Are you familiar with The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa/ The Maputo Protocol?
Yes, I am.
If yes, please describe, in your opinion, how an inclusive OGP can contribute to the Charter’s goals of promoting participative governance and the equal participation of women in the political life of their countries?
If yes, also please also describe how an inclusive OGP can contribute to the achievement of SDG5 and SDG16 on gender equality and women’s empowerment and promoting a peaceful, just, accountable and inclusive societies.
I think first of all, women in this country are organized already, whether they are organized in community based organizations, women’s rights organizations, or feminist groups whatever you want it call it, is having them join the coalition that is the OGP, that they are representing themselves and it is not other people pushing for women. That is the first step. Then you have mentioned the Maputo Protocol and it is not the only one that speaks to the aspirations of women as far as governance is concerned.
It is getting to understand, from all these protocols that the women have because they are developed through a lot of negotiation and dialogue processes. So the aspirations of women are already documented, it is getting to understand through this framework that exists, what are the aspirations of this category of people and trying to adopt them as our commitments in the OGP. I would say those are two critical things that we could pick as the start off point.
Mainstreaming the Protocol into the OGP would therefore be useful but still getting feminist groups, the women’s rights organizations, community-based organizations to the table to speak to these issues because we know as a country how women are organized. That we do not need to be told. Getting them into the space and as much as we say this is voluntary, even in the voluntary space there must be a deliberate action to get certain categories of people to engage. Voluntary also speaks about the capacity, so this is a voluntary space so if you have the capacity in terms of financial resources to engage then you can engage. Meaning those groups that are overburdened with poverty will never get there. Actually, that voluntary is a scam.
10. Given the structure of the OGP as it currently is, are there any aspects of it that you think help increase or hinder women’s meaningful participation and inclusion in OGP processes? If yes, which?
One of the things that hinder the participation of women is because we have refused completely to cost public participation. Costing public participation is to acknowledge that for certain groups of people, they cannot just engage because this engagement comes with a price in terms of money or time meaning they have to abandon sourcing for their immediate needs to be able to participate in this forum that is so important is building an enabling system but the enabling system is only important to them in the long term. Remember these are people who are struggling with short term need. As long as we don’t cost this participation, these people will never engage because they have an intermediate need that they must address and that completely limits their participation. But we refuse that and in refusing to see that we make these spaces, like the OGP, the public participation in our country an elitist space. I will go because I have a salary and whether I go to work or not they still have to pay me. So Farah who has a salary has time to go to a Kiambu county hall and listen a whole day because I lose nothing, my salary is still guaranteed. But for the woman who has to do casual labour, for her she has to make a choice, to make the 200 shillings or to go for the finance bill.
That concept of costing public participation, we have to think through it.
Of course, I would say the other hindrance is in terms of capacity to engage because you have the information, you need to have the skill, you need to visualize why this space is important to you. How is that going to translate to a better life in the long run for you, your household and your community.
I would say also information, for you to engage you need to have information. Whether that information comes in form of data that people are able to visualize and interact with, that is easy to read, data that people can challenge and say I understand, or I don’t agree.
So, it is information, it is skill and the costing.
To clarify the costing, I find that people have a very shallow interpretation of what costing is. When I say cost, I don’t mean that we need to be paid but it is like the question you were asking me, do we adopt this model of representation or do we adopt the model were we actually take the OGP to the people. If the conversation is concentrated here in the capital how many people can actually engage vis a vis when the actual conversation is concentrated at the local level. That is the conversation around the costing, It doesn’t mean that people who are participating ought to be paid but taking it to a space where they can automatically be able to participate. It is like the issue of unpaid care work where people do not understand who will pay you, where will the money come from.
Aspects that could increase women’s participation
I still think the OGP in very concentrated in the capital so that automatically even if it is open for women to participate, it is a completely different category of women that would participate there. People who are I would say elite so I would say no. The space encourages elitism as it is.
11. Do you have any additional thoughts on how women have/have not been or can be meaningfully included in OGP processes? Probe: Of all the things we have talked about, what is the most important to you?
First of all, we need to sell OGP as it is, let people just know what is OGP what it is all about, what was the genesis of the OGP because most people want to relate with something that they know.
Two, we need to gel the OGP, that is global with, because we also have our own concept of participation in governance so that people don’t see these things as two different things, or as parallel things, competing things, or things that are foreign that are being imposed onto us. It is actually something that is building on initiatives that Kenya as a country has already taken. So gel these two conversations together, sell it to the people, so that then the people can ask is this an important space for us to be able to engage and that again also has to be deliberate just like the UN is trying to sell the sustainable development goals to everyone. I think it is the same model we cannot just assume that people will get to learn about it, because it is circulating on email, we have a website, you know. I don’t even see that conversation too much in the media.
Most importantly, let us include women’s and girls’ voices in the OGP. Let us mainstream the Maputo Protocol and others because it is just not the Maputo Protocol that articulates the aspirations of women but also let us be deliberate about how we include the different categories and organizations of women both at the local and at the mainstream kind or organizations.
AO: This transcript from a one-on-one interview was part of a larger study under the Feminist Open Government Initiative (FOGO) to explore the extent to which country level Open Government Parntership (OGP) processes have been gender responsive since they were launched in 2018. The research focused on Kenya and Ghana.