Kenya is on the brink of major promise — according to Obama, that is. On Sunday, President Barack Obama spoke to 4,500 Kenyans in a Nairobi sports arena. Obama, whose father is from Kenya, visited the African country for two days before traveling to Ethiopia Sunday. Amid his discussion of corruption, his personal connection to the country, and anti-gay discrimination, Obama urged Kenya to embrace feminist values. He declared the oppression of women a worldwide issue:
Around the world there is a tradition of oppressing women and treating them differently and not giving them the same opportunities, and husbands beating their wives, and children not being sent to school. Those are traditions. Treating women and girls as second-class citizens. Those are bad traditions. They need to change.
He also acknowledged that some of these issues are rooted in tradition – but that doesn't make them right:
Every country and every culture has traditions that are unique and help make that country what it is, but just because something is part of your past doesn’t make it right; it doesn't mean it defines your future.
In his speech, he highlighted some of the major issues for women in the country. Here are four powerful feminist messages Obama gave that will hopefully inspire more change for Kenyan women.
On Genital Mutilation
"There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation," Obama told the crowd. According to the United Nations, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation worldwide that affects as many as 140 million women. The Guardian reported that more than 25 percent of Kenyan women have experienced genital mutilation. Present in 29 African countries, FGM can cause severe health and psychological consequences.
On Forced Marriage
"There's no place in a civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children," Obama said. Plan International, a children's rights group, concluded in a 2012 report that a combination of factors causes child marriage: Along with culture and religion, girls are seen as an economic burden and valued as "capital" in exchange for goods. According to Girls Not Brides, a worldwide partnership between hundreds of organizations working to end childhood marriages, 26 percent of girls get married before age 18, and 6 percent are married before 15.
"Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women and allow them to maximize their potential is doomed to fall behind the global economy," Obama declared. "We're in a sports center: Imagine if you have a team and don’t let half of the team play. That's stupid. That makes no sense." In Kenya, the gender-based education gap has been shrinking, but still exists. According to the United Nations, more than half of all secondary education-aged Kenyan girls are not receiving it. Nine percent of Kenyan men are illiterate, compared to 16 percent of women.
On Sexual Assault
"There's no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence." Violence against women is also an issue in Kenya. Non-profit Global Sisters wrote earlier this year that nearly half of Kenyan women over the age of 15 have suffered from violence, while "one woman is raped every 30 seconds; one in four women is beaten by her partner."
Watch a segment of President Obama's speech below.
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