By Winnie Kabintie
Kenya has over the years made some quite notable steps in advancing Gender Equality and empowering women and girls and these efforts were brought to the fore during the 12th Commonwealth Women Affairs Ministers Meeting (WAMM) in Nairobi.
Constitutional, Legal and Policy Frameworks to Promote, Enforce and Monitor Equality
The country has put in place various constitutional, legal and policy frameworks to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination. These include Education policies, legislation on Sexual Offenses, Child labour and elimination of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
President Uhuru Kenyatta, in a speech read by CS a mina Mohammed, affirmed the delegates attending WAMM of Kenya’s commitment to champion Gender Equality, saying it is central to the development agenda of his government.
“Our development blueprint Kenya Vision 2030, outlines flagship projects for the promotion of gender equality, Inclusive Economic Growth, Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence, Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices, Gender Mainstreaming and empowerment of the girl child,” Uhuru Kenyatta said.
Women Economic Empowerment
Indeed as a Gender Activist, I was glad that the Gender Interventions mentioned in the president’s speech were tangible, perhaps even more visible and not the usual political rhetoric.
Among the initiatives the government has undertaken to empower women economically is through Affirmative Action, which has seen the introduction of funds such as the Uwezo (empowerment) Fund, and Youth Enterprise Funds, which provide women, youth and people with disability (PWD) access to low-interest capital funding for their businesses.
The government also introduced the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO), program, which reserves a 30 percent allocation of all government tenders to enterprises owned by women, youth and PWDs.
Gender and Development: Ending Discrimination
Gender-based discrimination continues to be a major challenge facing women and girls in Kenya and this has contributed to the occurrence of cultural vices such as early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation.
Kenya has on this front developed critical policies and legislation to enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination. These include the review of National Policy on Gender and Development and the National Policy for the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation.
Special Unit – FGM
A Special Unit to handle FGM and other gender-based violence-related cases was also created at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Prof Margaret Kobia, Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender, who is chairing the Commonwealth Women Ministers Meeting, was keen to highlight some of these Gender policies.
“Backed by a progressive constitution, Kenya has developed critical policies and legislation to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination. We have also reviewed our National Policy on Gender and Development and the National Policy for the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation both of which have been approved by Cabinet,” Prof Kobia said.
Empowering Girls In Education
Professor Kobia also underscored Kenya’s efforts in empowering girls in education. She among other things cited the provision of free sanitary towels to school girls across the country saying the program has greatly addressed the absenteeism of girls from schools as well as transition to higher levels of education.
100% primary school Transition
The government also introduced a program to ensure a 100% transition from primary to secondary school, which has seen over 90% of all students proceed from primary to secondary education through full government sponsorship.
In 2019, the Ministry of Education recorded an 85 percent enrolment in secondary schools for pupils who sat for the 2018 KCPE, a 7 percent improvement from the previous year.
Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights – the Demographic Dividend
Access to affordable and youth-friendly Reproductive Health Services is also another major challenge facing women and girls in Kenya.
Family planning has been touted as critical to economic transformation and our country’s national prosperity stands to grow sustainably when every family is better placed to afford the basic needs of healthcare, shelter and education.
This will help overturn the high dependency rates in the country by ensuring that a majority of the population is contributing to the economy more than they are dependant on it.
The dependency rate in Kenya remains high (80.9 percent) according to the World Economic Forum; 8 dependants for every working 10 Kenyans.
Dr Kibaru-Mbae, director-general, National Council for Population and Development has often urged the country to take advantage of the economic dividend saying if the country adopts interventions in education, health and youth employment, Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years.
“Kenya is at the cusp of a “demographic dividend” that could change the country’s fortunes in the first half of the 21st century, but only if the country takes the right steps towards investing in its youth,” Dr Kibaru-Mbae said in an article published in local dailies.
CS Margaret Kobia affirmed the country’s quest to harness the demographic dividend, saying the benefits will be achieved not just by education alone but through training, the creation of opportunities for decent work for young people and the availability of family planning.
“Kenya subscribes to target 5.6 of Goal 5 of the 2030 Agenda that aims to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development,” she said.
Kenya has progressive laws and policies to tackle gender-based violence (GBV). These include the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, 2015, Sexual Offences (Medical Treatment) Regulations (2012); and the Sexual Offences Rules of Court (2014).
The government in partnership with non-state actors is currently implementing a joint program on preventing and responding to gender-based violence and is also working with the Judiciary to strengthen access to justice for victims of GBV.
This year’s theme for the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) legal awareness week is; Eradicating Gender-Based Violence – A Focus On Mental Health.
LSK will undertake legal aid clinics to sensitize the public on how to eliminate gender-based violence and the various avenues for redress for victims of gender-based violence.
UN Lauds Kenya’s Efforts In Championing Gender Equality And Women’s Empowerment
Dr. Natalia Kanem, The United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) Executive Director, lauded Kenya’s efforts in championing gender equality and women’s empowerment.
“I especially thank H.E. President Kenyatta for his firm commitment to ending practices that harm women and girls and hinder their potential, including female genital mutilation. President Kenyatta, we at UNFPA will work with you, your government and the people of Kenya to achieve this goal,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem during the opening ceremony of the 12th WAMM.
There is still a lot to be done to achieve Gender Equality and end discrimination in Kenya but looking back at where we have been as a country and where we are now, as a young Kenyan woman I’m happy with the progress made in the quest to attain gender parity as we move towards 2030.
HRH The Countess of Wessex Calls for Support for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence – WAMM 2019