News 2008


Emerging forceful voices in politics

Saturday Nation


08. March 2008

As women gather around the globe to mark the International Women’s Day, there is cause for hope and for worry among the Kenyan lot.

There has been a respectable 17 per cent increase in parliamentary representation from 18 in the Ninth Parliament to 21 in the current House; and yet Kenyan women remain a minority in the supreme lawmaking organ of the country.

The women currently account for just about 10 per cent of the 10th Parliament — well below the 30 per cent, considered to be the critical mass for influencing decision-making aimed at improving the status of women.

And no wonder, a study carried out by Infotrak Research and Consulting Company this week found that Kenyan women felt unfairly treated by the society.

Disputed theory

The study, which found that 60 per cent of women are influenced in their actions by their mothers, disputed the Freudian theory — that girls are closer to their fathers as boys are to their mothers.

The survey also found that a slight majority of the women are not satisfied with how their issues are addressed.

According to the survey, 56 per cent of women sampled are not fully satisfied with the way both Government and civil societies have been addressing gender issues.

As a result, they are not supporting activities of these institutions that would probably be addressing their plight.

At the same time, 38 per cent of women feel that Government should play a more predominant role in women’s affairs, even as they also feel that men are a major obstacle to their empowerment.

Fifty six per cent of women feel that their workplace does not have a gender inclusive culture and that women are treated less favourably than men in various ways. This is especially so in training and development, recruitment and remuneration, appraisal and performance management as well opportunities for job promotion.

Beijing Declaration

Despite the Beijing Declaration that “women empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society including participation in the decision making process and access to power are fundamental for the achievement of equality development and peace”, Kenya’s women still feel discriminated against.

Apart from derogatory language and various forms of assault, which according to the Infotrak research include sexual assault, rape and physical abuse, there is outright discrimination.

And, despite all the efforts that have been made towards achieving gender equality, Kenya remains a predominantly patriarchal society where the status of women particularly in the rural setting, is relatively low.

Gender inequality prevails in many aspects of the Kenyan society, despite the fact that women account for 52 per cent of the population and play an active role in national development.

The women want education, unemployment and violence addressed urgently this year. They consider access to better education a ticket to better income to support their families and personal needs.

The Infotrak study of more than 1,200 women sample found that 53 per cent of Kenyan women felt gender equality is not exercised even within the context of the Education for All initiative advocated within the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The women sampled indicated that more men continue to get opportunities in various educational institutions as opposed to women especially in the rural setting.

North Eastern Province was, however, not included in the survey.

A research manager at Infotrak, Mr Sam Otieno, told the Saturday Nation that violence was an indicator of how vulnerable women are.

“Most women found themselves alone with children and they ended up displaced, at least for those who escaped death,” said Mr Otieno.

According to the survey, women felt that given more employment opportunities, they would be better placed to fight poverty.

And in the employment sector where 68 per cent of women feel there is no equality, the survey showed that men seemed to be given priority in hiring and job advancement over women.

Closely linked to this is the wage gap where only 40 per cent of women feel that men and women in Kenya today have equal opportunity to get competitive wages for their work. The rest feel that men continue to have an upper hand in wages.

In the health care sector, however, women felt there was gender equality with 55 per cent claiming equal opportunity for treatment and care as compared to men.

Infotrak chief executive Angela Ambitho noted that within child care, 61 per cent of women felt that irrespective of gender, most children seemed to get equal treatment from caregivers.

This applies for support for the needy where 57 per cent of women feel that both sexes get equal treatment.

“We found out that 77 per cent of women agreed that gender equality should be a top priority for the Government in Kenya,” she said.

Ms Ambitho said that while women remained marginalised, several efforts had been made both by Government and other partners to amend existing laws and policies to promote gender equality.

Indeed, recent Government efforts in changing the situation have been through the development of Sessional Paper No. 5 of 2005 on Gender Equality and Development, which forms the framework for affirmative action through encouraging NGOs, community organisation, trade unions and the private sector to ensure higher participation and representation of women and consequently their empowerment.