8 March 2019

Kenya Yet to Realise Gender Parity Dream

Photo: Mustapha1992/Wikimedia Commons
Women at work in Nigeria.

Kenya joins the rest of the world to mark the International Women's Day today amid several unresolved gender issues. From the outset, this is an opportune moment to take stock of the gains made and deficits that obtain in pursuit of gender equity. Importantly, we have to ask hard questions and properly anchor gender issues at the heart of national discourse.

In relative terms, gains have been recorded in recent years regarding gender parity at the social, economic and political levels. At the political level, for the first time since the enactment of the current Constitution, the country now has at least three county governors and three senators, a feat that was not possible in 2013. Considering that there are 47 counties, having only six women in these positions is minimalist. But that is not insignificant; it marks a positive start and indicates the realms of possibilities.

The role of women in national development is well documented. The success of any society rests on equal access to resources and opportunities and full participation by both genders. Social indicators such as health and education are enhanced in a context of gender equity. Kenya's economic prosperity is only realisable to the extent that women, who constitute more than half of the population, have access to means of production. In contexts like ours, where few women have title to land, access to credit, or own property, among others, equity remains elusive.

A worrying paradox is that gender issues are debated in boardrooms, but not actualised. Of profound concern is the inability of the National Assembly to enact a law that gives force to the constitutional two-thirds gender rule. For the fourth time last week, the motion failed in Parliament because male MPs do not seem convinced about it. Every time the Bill is brought to the House, it fails on technical grounds caused deliberately by male MPs, who conveniently miss the sessions to cause lack of quorum.

At the Cabinet level, female ministers hardly constitute the one-third threshold despite the government's commitment to creating an even playing ground. Things are not any better in the private sector, where few women occupy top positions. An analysis of composition of county structures exposes the continued pattern of inequality. There are very few female deputy governors or women in the other senior county government positions.

Inasmuch as progress has been made, the overall picture is that of persistent inequalities arising from socio-economic and political structures that confine women to the periphery. The imperative is to shake up the shackles that disempower and disenfranchise one segment of society.

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