Kenya is among the top 10 African countries that have made significant reforms in laws and regulations targeted at improving gender equality over the past decade, a World Bank shows.
Kenya scored 83.75, with the highest score of 100, surpassing the global average score of 74.71 and sub-Saharan Africa’s 69.63.
The World Bank index captures eight indicators that touched on women’s interactions with the law as they begin, progress and end their careers.
They included freedom of movement, laws that mandate non-discrimination in employment based on gender, equal remuneration for work of equal value, laws on marriage, laws that influence women’s economic decision after having children, running a business, managing assets and getting a pension.
The going places indicator measures constraints on freedom of movement, including whether women can independently decide where to travel and live.
Starting a job analyses laws affecting women’s decisions to enter the labour market while getting paid measures laws affecting occupational segregation and the gender wage gap.
Getting married assesses legal constraints related to marriage while having children examines laws affecting women’s work after pregnancy and running a business analyses constraints to women starting and running businesses.
Managing assets examines gender differences in property and inheritance law while getting pension assesses laws affecting the size of a woman’s pension.
Kenya scores highest in gender equity in terms of freedom of movement (100), starting a job (100), getting paid (100) and getting married (100).
The country also performed well in gender equity in managing assets (80), running a business (75) and getting pension (75).
A notable legal reform in Kenya that addressed gender inequality in Kenya was the signing into law of the Matrimonial Property Act 2013, which reinforced the equal rights enshrined in the Constitution for both spouses when they own property together and granted some new rights to women landowners.
Kenya has also made a key gain through the passage of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act 2015 into law to protect survivors of domestic violence.
Offenders are subject to stringent penalties that range from a fine not exceeding Sh200,000 to a jail term not exceeding one year upon conviction.
In addition, individuals who disobey court protection orders will be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Sh100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment.
The country, however, ranks poorly in the getting children indicator (40) — which examines laws affecting women’s work after pregnancy.
Kenya workplaces remain unfriendly for mothers who lack facilities to breastfeed their children.
Attempts to mainstream breastfeeding in the workplace are yet to bear fruit with a proposed law on this, the Kenya Breastfeeding Mothers’ Bill 2017 still pending before Parliament.
The Bill requires employers with more than 30 women in their employment, to have a breastfeeding room accessible to lactating mothers for at least 30 minutes every four hours.
The Bill further proposes that such facilities include a diaper changing station.
A government human resource policy unveiled in 2016 gave public institutions three years to set up day-care facilities and provide breastfeeding employees well-equipped lactating rooms.
In the East African region, Kenya ranked second after Tanzania, which scored 84.38.
Mauritius leads the continent with a score of 91.88. It is followed by South Africa (88.13), Zimbabwe (86.88), Namibia (86.25) Tanzania and Togo (84.38) respectively.
Globally, Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden lead with a perfect score of 100.
This means women in these countries are on equal legal standing with men in the eight indicators.
“Gender equality is a critical component of economic growth. Women are half of the world’s population and we have our role to play in creating a more prosperous world. But we won’t succeed in playing it if the laws are holding us back,” notes World Bank.
The World Bank, which tracked legal changes for the past decade found that 10 years ago, no country gave women and men equal legal rights.
“At 25 years old, many women are just starting their careers. The decisions they make affect their economic security, career growth and work-life balance. This challenging period is only made more difficult in economies where legal environments do not support a woman’s decision to work.
“For instance, a woman cannot effectively look for a job or go on an interview if she cannot leave her home without permission. Even if she can go on an interview, will an employer be willing to hire her?
“If she is hired, will she need to quit if she gets married or has children? If not, will she have to move to a lower paying job because she must balance work with caring for her family?” the bank poses.
Many laws and regulations continue to prevent women from entering the workforce or starting a business, discrimination that can have lasting effects on women’s economic inclusion and labour force participation.
“We know that achieving gender equality requires more than just changes to laws.
“The laws need to be meaningfully implemented — and this requires sustained political will, leadership from women and men across societies, and changes to ingrained cultural norms and attitudes,” says the World Bank.
Economies in the Middle East and North Africa have the lowest average global score with 47.37, meaning that the average economy in the Middle East and North Africa is unequal in at least half of the areas measured.
When classified by income level, high-income economies score highest with an average score of 82.86.
Upper-middle-income economies have an average score of 75.93.
Lower-middle- and low-income economies have very similar average scores of 68.74 and 67.56, respectively.