The State and Sexual Politics: An Analysis of Abortion Discourses in Kenya
Njagi, J. W. (2013). The State and Sexual Politics: An Analysis of Abortion Discourses in Kenya (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7250
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7250
Unsafe abortion, an issue that leads to over 2,000 deaths and health complications for more than 21,000 women annually in Kenya, remains largely unaddressed by the Kenyan state. Despite the significant public importance of abortion, there has been little or no scholarly attention directed at the role of the state in shaping sexual politics through its regulation of abortion. In this thesis, I undertake a feminist analysis of the Kenyan state to explore how the state, through its policy regime, shapes sexual politics. I argue that Western-based feminist theorisations of the state, although useful, do not fully account for the Kenyan state’s treatment of the issue of abortion. Consequently, I draw on the range of scholarship in feminist theorisations of the state and in African politics to develop the Critical African Feminist Perspective on the state. Using this perspective, I undertake a discourse analysis of archival material, policy texts, and interviews with key actors in abortion politics. The analysis of the state over three phases – colonial, dictatorial, and democratic – reveals the neo-patrimonial character of the state, resulting in policies and practices that systematically ignore or marginalise issues affecting women. This study demonstrates that across consecutive governments, the Kenyan political elite, in an attempt to consolidate political power and popularity in the face of low levels of legitimacy and complex tribal politics, has deployed a tactic of “strategic ambivalence”, wherein the law criminalising abortion has been sustained but not enforced. State efforts have therefore been directed at presenting a positive image of itself to both pro- and anti-abortion actors, rather than substantively tackling the problem of unsafe abortion. The study establishes that although neoliberalism, capitalism and patriarchy play significant roles, neo-patrimonial politics is the key impediment to creating policies and institutions that will ensure Kenyan women’s access to safe abortions. I note that although Kenya’s new Constitution guarantees women better access to legal abortion, it has not conclusively addressed neo-patrimonialism, which is therefore likely to continue to have negative implications for sexual politics and issues of gender equality in general.
University of Waikato
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