Ideas & Debate

Time right to do more in uplifting status of women

If women participate in the economy equally to men, they would add up to $28 trillion to annual global GDP. file photo | nmg
If women participate in the economy equally to men, they would add up to $28 trillion to annual global GDP. file photo | nmg 

Kenya this year celebrated the International Women’s Day with the launch of First Lady Margaret Kenyatta’s strategic plan for beyond zero campaign to end maternal and child deaths.

While the importance of this initiative cannot be disputed, the sole focus on it by Kenya’s top leadership denied the country a chance to critically examine what progress has so far been made broadly on women’s rights and what more need to be done to achieve gender equality, including in the three areas of political representation, ownership of land and economic participation.

In 2017, for the first time three women were elected governors and another three as senators. While this has been hailed as a great milestone, we must not forget that this only constitutes six per cent of women in the senate and in governorship, in a country whose population is 52 per cent women.

In Parliament, out of 290 elected members, only 23 are women. At 12 per cent, this is the lowest in the region. And despite the constitutional requirement that two-thirds of parliamentarians cannot be of the same gender, Parliament remains unconstitutionally constituted.

Further, it has been a long and violent journey even for those that have been elected. These women fought against a culture and a patriarchal system that does not believe in women’s leadership, against political parties whose nomination process are not based on merit but favouritism, and on the elections trail, they fought against politically instigated violence. There also is an unacceptable minimisation of women in politics.

Rights to ownership of land

The 2010 Kenyan constitution gives equal rights to men and women, boys and girls to inherit land, but this is just not happening.

A report released recently by the Kenya Land Alliance indicated that only 10 per cent of land titles between 2013 and 2017 were issued to women. The review covered land registries in all 47 counties and over a million title deeds issued during that period.

Even more discouraging was the size of land owned by women. Of the 10.1 million hectares of land that were titled, women had a paltry 1.62 per cent while men had 97.7 per cent.

These figures are more shocking when realising that women in some parts of the country provide 80 per cent of Kenya’s farm labour. Thus, millions of women smallholder farmers are toiling on land they do not own.

Not only is this unfair, but it’s bad for the country. The joint or sole ownership of land by women has been shown to improve their bargaining power in the household, increased agricultural productivity and provided more food security.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics report Women and Men in Kenya Facts and Figures 2017, of the more than 2.5 million Kenyans employed in what they categorise as the modern sector, only 34 per cent of them are women.

And even in the agricultural sector where most of the labour is provided by women, only 33 per cent of those in wage employment in the sector are women.

In the manufacturing and the public sector, women’s representation is 17 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. It is only in education where we have near parity with 47 per cent of those working in the sector being women.

The economic participation of women across sectors is critical for several reasons. Economically empowered women are more likely to make investments in their families, communities and in the country, suffer less domestic violence and live with more dignity.

At the global level, evidence shows that if women participate in the economy equally to men, it would add up to $28 trillion or 26 per cent to annual global gross domestic product.

Women in Kenya and most of the African continent are still seen as lesser beings, unable to lead and whose place is in the kitchen and not in employment or in leadership.

Until society begins to treat women as equal to men, and provide the same opportunities, their participation in politics, land ownership and the economic sphere will remain low.

Changing culture is possible. For example, in Ethiopia, a mass campaign to educate people on the value of women owning land led to a successful registration of titles in the names of husband and wife. 

Between 2003 and 2010, up to 80 per cent of land in regions such as Tigray had been jointly registered. In politics, setting targets by leaders for women in Parliament and in senior government positions has been shown to change perspectives about the roles of women and their capabilities in leadership. In Rwanda, as a result of a target of 50 per cent in government, 11 of the 20 cabinet ministers are women.

Having a country-wide discussion on the status of women is an important starting point and we can use the annual report the Women and Men in Kenya Facts and Figures to guide us.

Njuki is an expert on agriculture, food security, and women’s empowerment and works as a senior program specialist with IDRC. She is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow. Follow her @jemimah_njuki.