As the world marks the International Women’s Day today, Kenya has an opportunity to reflect on its journey towards gender equality and participation of women in key socio-economic functions.
The country being a patriarchal society, women rights and participation have for many years been confined to the backburner clouded by harmful stereotypes and social segregation.
This situation has worsened the gender gap over the years with men hogging all the big jobs and opportunities in society while the women watched haplessly from the sideline.
Nonetheless, spirited campaigns for gender equality and parity have begun yielding some fruit with more women breaking fresh ground in leadership.
For instance, the 2017 General Elections opened a new chapter for women leadership in Kenya after three of them were elected to the powerful position of governor. Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga) and Joyce Laboso (Bomet) defied odds to become Kenya’s first-ever governors — bucking a trend where the coveted position was perceived as “boys club’.
Several women were also elected to the position of deputy governor and senators during the 2017 polls —cementing the gains in women participation in politics. The country today has three women Senators — Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Margaret Kamar (Uasin Gishu) and Fatuma Dullo (Isiolo).
There was also progress in the National Assembly where more women won elective seats in the last General Election. The number of elected female MPs jumped to 23 in 2017 up from 16 in 2013.
The number of women elected MCAs also increased from 84 to 96 of the total 1,450.
There is, however, more work to be done to attain the desired Constitutional threshold of women representation in key leadership positions in the country.
Women representation in constitutional offices including the Cabinet and Parliament remains disappointing.
Article 81 (b) of the Constitution that requires the two-thirds gender representation in public offices. This has not been honoured with Parliament twice declining to pass a Bill that seeks to compel the implementation of this requirement.
The election of 23 women MPs in 2017, for example, falls way short of the legal requirement of at least 117. Even with the 47 nominated women representatives, the tally is still nowhere close to the constitutional threshold.
This situation is replicated in the Senate where only three women were elected against a constitutional requirement of 23.
The frustrations of the patriarchal dominance of Kenyan politics reflects heavily in the number of running for elective positions. Notably, out of the 10,918 aspirants in 2017, only 1,749 (16 per cent) were female—underlining the high levels of dejection among women.
The recently constituted Cabinet by President Uhuru Kenyatta further confirmed the fact that the place of women in leadership remains a dicey issue.
Only six women — Amina Mohamed (Education), Monica Juma (Foreign Affairs), Raychelle Omamo (Defence), Farida Karoney (Land), Margaret Kobia (Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs) and Sicily Kariuki (Health) serve as Cabinet secretaries out of 21.
Lobbyists say the current Cabinet is 73 per cent of male members and should the President appoint a male Attorney-General then it would imply that the Cabinet would have 18 men and six women raising the stake of males to 75 per cent.
Away from the political leadership, women in Kenya remain disadvantaged in accessing formal jobs in Kenya.
Only about a third of Kenyans in formal employment are women, a new study by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) showed — highlighting the continued underrepresentation of the female gender in the job market.
The modern or formal sector employment had 880,000 women compared to 1.68 million men in 2016.
This illustrated that women trail men by 65.6 percentage points in formal employment. The study, which collates data from the economic survey since 2010, demonstrates that more men than women have been employed in the majority of key sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing indicating they work less in formal wage employment than their male counterparts.
The KNBS further said women with wage employment in agriculture stand at 112,000 compared to 225,000 men while those in wage employment in manufacturing stands at 49,000 compared to 252,000.
Women in wage employment in wholesale sectors stand at 54,000 compared to 186,000 men. Those in wage employment in public administration are 83,000 compared to 148,000.
Additionally, women trail men in wage employment in the education sector at 249,000 in comparison with 276,000 men. In the service sector, women reverse the trend as 66,000 of them are in wage employment compared to 61,000 men.
There have been gains for women in Kenyan firms where their representation in management boards continues to grow over the years.
A recent study showed that Kenyan firms score above average on gender inclusivity, with the percentage of women in boards going up to 21 per cent in 2017, from 18 per cent in 2015 and 12 per cent in 2012. Based on this rate of growth, it is projected that Kenyan boards should achieve gender parity by 2030.
The Africa average is 13 per cent, South America eight per cent, Asia nine per cent, Europe 26 per cent and North America 20 per cent, according to the study by the Kenya Institute of Management in collaboration with the Nairobi Securities Exchange, the Graca Machel Trust-Kenya Chapter and Barclays Bank.