Why Kenya’s recovery plans need to be gender-friendly




  • UN Women’s Country Director Anna Mutavati discusses the need for a gender-sensitive economic recovery, the gains made on the gender equality journey and the many gaps that still have to be filled.

Kenya is preparing to mark International Women’s Day on March 8 against the backdrop of additional challenges to the gender equality campaign posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

UN Women’s Country Director Anna Mutavati discusses the need for a gender-sensitive economic recovery, the gains made on the gender equality journey and the many gaps that still have to be filled.

What should change post-Covid-19 for women?

In Kenya, the pandemic is impacting men and women differently. While Covid-19 is a health crisis and the primary focus is on saving lives, the socio-economic impacts demand a tailored and gender-sensitive recovery.

The economic impacts of the pandemic will disproportionately affect women also. Women earn less, save less, and have less secure jobs.

This poses a serious threat to women’s employment and livelihoods, especially in the informal sector where women make up 63 percent of street traders and 70 percent of workers in the horticulture sector, all of which have been hardest hit.

Tailored recovery programmes should target these small businesses to recover better and stronger.

On the issue of gender-based violence, we captured the nation’s and world’s attention by highlighting how GBV had become a shadow pandemic in the country.

Post-Covid-19, we should not go back to disregarding this issue in national plans and budgets. We need to maintain the same level of outrage and urgency to stamp out the vice from among us that we saw during the height of the pandemic, from the Head of State, all the way down to the family and individual in every household.

What are some of the projects that un women is carrying out to ensure women’s economic empowerment and resilience?

Economic empowerment of women gives them autonomy to make important life choices. We are particularly excited to have launched a programme on climate smart agriculture that will increase inclusion of gender in climate-smart policies, increase agricultural production and income levels, nutrition, and gender responsive climate-resilient livelihoods among targeted communities.

The programme, supported by the Government of Korea, and in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO) will benefit 2,500 farmers in Kitui, Laikipia and West Pokot.

What is your assessment of Kenya’s progress towards gender equity?

Kenya is on the right track, having enacted key laws on issues such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, the two thirds gender rule in the Constitution to promote women’s political leadership; protection of inheritance rights of widows; establishment of economic empowerment funds for women, youth and people with disabilities, among others.

However, without the complete implementation of these laws — and insufficient funding for gender equality programmes — we can neither fully protect nor empower women. The slow pace of change of harmful and negative social norms and attitudes continue to hinder progress by treating women and girls as second class citizens with no rights.

You have said that gender inequality is a 21st-century shame. What must Kenya do to achieve gender equality?

You cannot change what you cannot measure — so it is essential that we strengthen the production and use of gender disaggregated statistics. Globally, we are tragically short in socio-economic data disaggregated by sex.

Life experiences often differ depending on whether you are a man or woman, and we need to be responsive to that. Accurate data allows decision-makers to deliver actions that are truly needed to bring social change.

Secondly, changing negative social norms and values that perpetuate gender inequality in different spheres of life is key. This dialogue needs to happen at every level by men and women, boys and girls in everyday conversations. These negative social norms manifest in, for example, tolerance of domestic violence, battery and rape, child marriage, female genital mutilation and denial of economic opportunities for women.

As we work at the community level, we need to support our decision-makers in government to create laws and policies that remove gender discrimination in every part of our lives. This includes, for example, the calls for the Kenyan Parliament to enact the 2/3 gender rule into law and, once reached, push on to 50/50 representation of men and women in decision making positions.

Women’s economic empowerment is also a prerequisite if we want to achieve our goals by generating decent work for all, reducing poverty and ensuring that no one is left behind. Violence against women is a shame. No woman deserves to live in constant fear of gender-based violence.

What is un women doing to bring an end gender-based violence?

Our approach to ending violence against women in Kenya is ambitious and multi-sectoral. Firstly, we need to change negative social norms and attitudes that condone and perpetuate violence against women.

Rape culture and attitudes that normalise violence against women are commonplace in Kenya and need to be reversed.

This is the very start of the process — and one of the hardest to implement. In partnership with grassroots, civil society organisations, community leaders, women and men’s groups, we seek to engage people at the individual, family and community levels and raise awareness through dialogue and strategic forms of communication.

We engage men and boys in a two-way conversation to understand their perspectives and facilitate more positive social norms.

Through law enforcement, health services and justice, the state is the leading duty bearer for survivors of violence to access essential — sometimes life-saving — services. But they are also responsible for preventing violence from occurring in the first place.

It is critical, therefore, that national and county governments are equipped with comprehensive policies and laws to ensure that crimes do not go unpunished and that survivors obtain timely health and justice services. Ending impunity for these crimes is critical.

Simultaneously, we continue to work to strengthen quality services available to survivors on the ground such as safe shelters, counselling and other services.

All these efforts need to work simultaneously to create meaningful change. The media, academia and private sector, right down to the individual all have their duty to play in preventing and responding to gender-based violence.

It is about two years since your appointment as the UN women’s country director. What do you consider some of your key achievements so far?

I am privileged to work with an incredible team at UN Women Kenya. Since joining the team, we have supported groundbreaking research that unpacks national and county budgets, poverty and women’s empowerment to inform policies and budgeting for women.

UN Women has been at the centre of the Covid-19 response plan in Kenya, generating evidence and analysis of the gendered impacts of the pandemic. It has informed decision makers on how best to respond, for example, by increasing support to gender-based violence services and providing financial support to cushion women from total erosion of their livelihoods.

We participated in the multi-sectoral response to the reported increase in teenage pregnancy which came as a result of prolonged closure of schools. We also brought crucial attention to the issue of the increased burden of unpaid care work for women as families spent more time at home.

Kenya also joined the community of African Women Leaders Network (AWLN), through the successful launch of the Kenya Chapter, bringing women leaders together to speak with one voice on pertinent gender issues, including on the two thirds gender rule issue.

In June 2020, Kenya adopted its Second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security which puts women front and centre of the country’s complex peace and security landscape.

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