The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) joins Kenya and the world at large in commemorating International Women’s Day (IWD 2021) today, 8th March 2021. This year, the celebrations are held at a time when the world is grappling with the management of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery process. The 2021 theme for International Women’s Day is: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world,” and the campaign message is ‘choose to challenge’. The theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future society in times of pandemics.
The journey towards leadership and fair representation of women in the social-economic and political spheres has been long and winding. It can be traced back to the colonial period when the Maendelo Ya Wanawake Movement, a national grassroots movement, was registered in 1952. Since then, in every decade, there have been several initiatives developed to promote the inclusion, participation and representation of women in varying sectors of life, all of which have yielded some gains. These gains include the entrenchment of gender issues in legislation, policies, budgets, plans and institutional framework, mainstreaming gender in public and private life, establishing affirmative action programs, resources, and setting gender quotas in various sectors geared towards women empowerment. On this note, we celebrate our pacesetters and women trailblazers who have unremittingly advocated for women’s and girl’s rights.
The approach to gender equality and women inclusion in Kenya took a high notch in 2010 after the promulgation of The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and the latter national commitment to 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. The supreme law in particular underscores women representation in elective and appointive positions by creating a minimum threshold and a principle referred to as, ‘the not more than two- thirds gender rule’. The creation and entrenchment of devolved governments in the Constitution opened several other entry points for women leadership in the County Governments.
Although the minimum-set threshold of representation and participation of women at the national level is yet to be realised, significant progress has been made. In politics, for instance, women representation in the 1990s was 3%. This number increased in 2019 to 31.3% in Senate and 21.8% in the National Assembly. In Judiciary, women magistrates constitute 53.3% (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2020)
On the economic opportunities and participation, Kenya like many other developing countries suffers from extreme levels of gender inequalities and discrimination in the labour sector. The fact that women are persistently less present in the labour market than men contributes to the economic participation and opportunity gap. Further, within the labour market, gender gaps tend to widen with seniority level. An analysis of the gender mainstreaming reports for the year 2019/2020 received by the Commission from government Ministries, Departments and Agencies show that men are dominant in the senior management positions.
In the fight against COVID-19, women have been on the frontline as healthcare givers despite the risk of infection by the virus. While the daily statistics on the rate of COVID-19 infections have depicted higher numbers among males, more women than men are adversely affected by the pandemic. In the household, the contributions of women and girls to unpaid work have increased. With the revamping of the home-based care program for COVID-19 patients, women and girls take care of children, the elderly and family members infected by the virus.
The restrictions to movement and confinement of persons at home have also exposed women to intimate partner violence. Girls are exposed to exploitation and torture, Female Genital Mutilation, defilement and child labour. These factors create barriers to women participation in labour, governance, education and reduce their autonomy to claim rights.
As the country slowly recovers from the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission applauds the Government for sustained efforts towards women economic empowerment programs. The financial stimulus package directed to women enterprises has supported the revival and survival of women-led businesses. The continual training of women and youth on the value chain, innovations, financial management, low-cost manufacturing, recycling of waste, talent-based enterprises, start-up kits, marketing, and consumer preferences have gone a long way in promoting women participation in formal and informal employment. The government investment in social safety programs including health insurance, social security programs for the informal sector, and cash transfers to older members of society, persons with severe disabilities, and orphans and vulnerable children have cushioned women, girl and families from extreme poverty.
Despite the government’s efforts to ensure gender equality and freedom from discrimination, women and girls in Kenya continue to face structural, cultural, political and institutional barriers. Our patriarchal society continues to deny women opportunities of serving in leadership. Women and girls continue to lack adequate access to credit and other factors of production including land. Women and girls compared to men and boys have limited access to training opportunities particularly in Sciences, Mathematics, Engineering, Computing and Technology. Women and men should receive equal remuneration for the same work or work of equal value. In most cases however, women are discriminated against with respect to their pay creating a ‘gender pay gap’. Further, at workplaces, women are denied opportunities to work and care for children. An assessment made by the Commission on compliance with the provisions of the Health Act, No 21 of 2017, specifically section 71 which requires all employers to support working women to breastfeed at work shows that most institutions both public and private have not established lactation stations to enable lactating women to breastfeed at the workplace.
To accelerate the realization of a ‘gender-equal future’ and women leadership, the Commission recommends that:
- Women leadership spaces and opportunities in both levels of government and the private sector are protected and promoted in the on-going constitutional reform agenda;
- All actors support a coordinated effort towards the implementation of the Sessional Paper No. 02 of 2019 on National Policy on Gender and Development. This paper draws policy issues that Kenya must implement to realize gender equality and women empowerment along the 12 critical areas identified in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action;
- As we commence the UN decade of action, all duty bearers should comply with the constitutional provisions on gender equality and freedom from discrimination, and with international and regional commitments that Kenya has ratified on women rights;
- The government and the private sector increase resource allocation for gender equality programs;
- Communities and socialization agents promote a positive attitude towards women and girl’s autonomy. Women and girls must be recognized as agents and drivers of development; and
- That women as right holders must claim and exercise their rights including presenting themselves for opportunities available in governance, labour, education, manufacturing, blue economy, leadership, among other sectors.
The Commission wishes all women a happy International Women’s Day 2021.
Dr. Joyce M. Mutinda (PhD.)
 Economic Survey, 2020