Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (1.5 MB)

Intertextuality in Kenyan Policy Discourse on the Rights of Women

Download (1.5 MB)
Version 2 2023-09-22, 01:20
Version 1 2021-11-15, 21:20
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:20 authored by Aberi, George

The investigative aim of this thesis is to explore the recontextualization of the normative discourse of gender equality in Kenya’s policy discourse of women’s rights. Its purpose is threefold: Firstly, it attempts to examine the different ways in which policy makers use language in the course of interpreting and implementing gender equality policies. This includes a focus on both the linguistic and rhetorical/discursive strategies that these policy makers employ for such functions as endorsing, negotiating, legitimating, or even contesting given policy proposals. Secondly, the thesis endeavours to bring to light the different and changing conceptions of gender (in)equality espoused by the various policy actors involved in Kenya’s policy discourse of women’s rights over a critical ten-year period between 1995 and 2005. These policy actors include the Kenyan government; women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who actively seek to influence government policy; and the United Nations’ organizations with responsibility for ensuring the implementation of women’s human rights. Thirdly, the thesis attempts to show the extent to which policy initiatives proposed by the human rights-based women’s NGOs in Kenya are taken up in the texts produced by the Kenyan government.  In order to gain a better understanding of the discursive interactions between and amongst the policy actors in this study, an intertextual approach to Norman Fairclough’s model of critical discourse analysis (CDA) was used. The thesis drew discourse samples for analysis from the Kenyan government’s periodic reports detailing progress towards fully meeting the terms of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the documents produced by the Committee overseeing the Convention that provided assessment of the Kenyan government’s reports; the Kenyan government’s official texts on gender policy; and Kenyan women NGOs’ annual reports and other texts.  Though many scholars and researchers of women’s rights praise the UN Committee’s imperatives for bringing about policy changes concerning women’s rights globally, the findings from this study confirm that the Committee for CEDAW has only textual power, and that it lacks enforcement powers to ensure the implementation of the universal rights of women within the local milieu. In a similar vein, this study demonstrates that though the women’s NGOs play a significant role both in terms of identifying important areas of concern for policy intervention, and in necessitating changes in the genres of the national government, their participation has largely failed to ensure the Kenyan government’s epistemological shift from its current state of recognizing the existence of women’s rights, to the phase of implementing them.  This thesis also establishes that differing conceptions of gender (in)equality and ideological differences between the Committee for CEDAW and the Kenyan government tend to influence both the Committee’s and the Kenyan government’s use of varied discourses, genres, and styles, with the intent of manipulating to outmanoeuvre one another. This means that both the Kenyan government and the Committee live in different worlds, suggesting a continuing gap between the Committee’s normative knowledge of women’s rights to gender equality, and the Kenyan government’s cultural relativist perspectives concerning such rights. As a solution to these power struggles and political differences that derail policy making on gender equality, this study recommends the need both for the Committee and the Kenyan government to employ a reflexive and pragmatic mix of both the universalist and cultural relativist approaches to gender equality. This will bring forth shared areas of interest concerning women’s rights between the UN and the Kenyan government, based on their applicability within the local context. Moreover, such an approach will create a possibility for the Committee to understand the Kenyan government’s cultural relativist/competing discourse of women’s rights as another way of conceiving gender equality (i.e. productive power-knowledges), rather than viewing them as irrelevant cultural claims that stand in stark opposition to the universal understandings of women’s rights to gender equality. Likewise, the aforesaid reflexive and pragmatic mix of approaches will help the Kenyan policy makers to develop a more critical and nuanced view of the universal approaches to gender equality, thereby reducing their varied forms of resistance to gender equality via subtle evasive strategies.  Methodologically, this thesis shows how a comparative intertextual approach to Fairclough’s model of critical discourse analysis can be used as a framework for establishing the relations between policy text and context. This framework includes the micro-level of textual/linguistic analysis, the meso level of discursive interactions, and the macro level of socio-cultural practice at the local, institutional, and societal levels. Theoretically, the thesis demonstrates the different ways in which particular philosophical arguments and emancipatory concepts from Foucault’s theory of governmentality and transnational feminist rhetorical theory can be combined and exploited by linguists to promote different ways of theorizing and thinking concerning the development of policies for promoting gender equality.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-NC 4.0

Degree Discipline

Applied Linguistics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Wallace, Derek; Macalister, John