WB gives thumbs up to women’s liberties in Kenya

October 11, 2011
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 11 – Kenya has emerged top in the world among countries that have made strides in enacting laws and reforms that encourage women’s participation in entrepreneurship.

A World Bank report titled ‘Removing Barriers to Economic Inclusion’ cites the gains made in the Constitution as the biggest contributor to empowering women to venture into business.

The World Bank’s Program Officer for Women, Business and Law Sarah Iqbal revealed on Tuesday that of the 141 countries surveyed, Kenya led in making legal changes that eliminate gender differentiation.

“We covered six areas and out of that Kenya reformed in three areas. One of the things that I can highlight is that the constitution guarantees equal rights within marriage. Women can also access institutions and as such conduct the same transactions as men,” she said during the launch of the report.

The WB used other parameters such as a woman’s ability to sign a contract, travel abroad, manage property, and interact with public authorities and the private sector as determinants of the progress made by a country.

Kenya further received props for fast-tracking court procedures which means that women entrepreneurs can seek legal redress for small claims and have them resolved expeditiously.

The report went beyond the ‘traditional’ challenges of lack of access to finances and information and focused primarily on legal and regulatory hurdles that affect women’s capacity to work or set up and run a business.

These range from restrictions on women’s work such as prohibitions on working at night, the tax incentives available to them as well as an entrepreneur’s ability to easily access justice.

The report documents that these disparities exist the world over irrespective of whether a society is a high-income or low-income one.

Kenya has however managed to break some these barriers although there was general consensus that the implementation of these laws would be key to the country’s performance in the future.

And while highlighting all the positive measures including the establishment of the Women’s Fund that the government has undertaken, Federation of Women Entrepreneur Associations chairperson Joanne Mwangi said there was need to also break down the rights and laws that impact women in business.

“The new Constitution has got a lot of gains but they are largely jargon that women do not understand. But, there is an opportunity to unpack those gains and let the women lobby for the implementation of these laws,” Mwangi opined.

Her argument was premised on the fact that if women are economically empowered, poverty levels would be reduced significantly and this would in turn impact the country’s politics and economics.

The fact that good efforts have been made in this area, the World Bank’s Africa Regional Manager for Investment Climate Advisory Services David Bridgman warned against complacency.

This progress, he advised, should be tempered with efforts to accelerate the implementation rate of reforms aimed at improving the environment for doing business.

Having a conducive and attractive investment climate, he said, would augur well for the country and portend huge opportunities for not only women but anyone else who injects money into the economy.

“You need to level the playing field and you also need to create the conditions for dynamic economic growth,” he challenged.

Going by its performance in 2007, when Kenya was among the top 10 global performers in the world on the ease of doing business, he exuded confidence that the country has what it takes to succeed.

This optimism was shared by speakers at the event who included industrialists Chris Kirubi and Manu Chandaria who challenged women take advantage of the numerous opportunities that exist in the country to grow not only their operations but the economy at large.

A change of attitude and the mindset was however needed for the women to scale the heights of success, Kirubi said.

“What you need to do is get down to work. Stop thinking about the historical injustices. Banks are out there giving money to people who have organised themselves in groups so what we need to do is reform our own mind. It can be done and it’s possible,” Kirubi declared.

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