Women’s Experiences as Sources of Public and Legitimate Knowledge: Constitution Making in Kenya

Wanjiku Mukabi Kabira


Betty Friedan in her essay, Model Making-Knowledge notes:

“All human beings have a biased and limited view of the world: biased in that it begins with self and limited in that it is restrained by experience. This means that there are many ways of seeing the world….”[1]

African women’s view of the world is one of those ways, a perspective that needs to be made visible and integrated in our definition of how we see the world. We need to bring this contextual knowledge to visibility. African women have created their own governance structures and generated knowledge which remains outside the mainstream knowledge, policy and Institutional development in Africa. We continue, in our region, to refer to and use theories and frameworks whose basic assumptions do not include African women’s worldviews. Theories of power, political and other, need to be interrogated from the African women’s experiences point-of-view. Looking at such novels as Margaret Ogola’s The River and The Source (Kenya), Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter (Senegal) and Lena Elieshi’s “Parched Earth’’ (Tanzania), among other novels, will help us understand what this means. The story of women’s participation in the review process in Kenya and indeed in Africa south of the Sahara will help us see how they have moved the process of naming, ordering and making sense of the world for themselves and for society.

1.1 African Women and Social Theory

Social theory argues that all human beings are influenced by belief systems that we subscribe to, and that we tend to project to the world the value systems we have learnt. We select evidence from the world that reinforces our value systems because this helps us respond to what is meaningful to us.

In addition, we always tend to see that which reinforces our worldview.[2]2 The Feminist theory has been concerned with how we think and how we can think differently, appreciating that our reasoning and other processes are always in a flux, always changing and responding to new challenges. In order to change our societies, women’s experiences, vision and philosophy of life needs to find its way into shaping and making sense of the world. We need to offer a more comprehensive view of the world and change the nature of knowledge brewed in our region. Okot p’ Bitek, the great African scholar, during his tenure at the University of Nairobi would often tell his students colleagues: “I have heard what you say about what others have said, but what do you say?” It is this question that I seek to answer in this essay. The voices of African women, their views, perspectives and experiences must be brought to the forefront and find their way to the centre of knowledge making and naming our world.
  1. Betty Friedan, For the record, Page 10
  2. (Dale Spender, Model Knowledge-Making) Page 27

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