Achieving gender parity; Kenya at crossroads

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International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8th March to recognise women’s achievements around the world without regard to national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political divisions.

The day has taken new dimensions, making it a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. The day is also set to reflect on progress made in regard to women achievements and call for change.

In 2017, the day aims to dwell on “Women in the Changing World of Work” and the 2017 theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.

The theme is meant to catapult the 2030 Agenda while laying a strong foundation for implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with special emphasis on Goal 4 “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” and goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

It is worth to compare existing commitments on equality, women’s empowerment and human rights in regard to the Kenyan context. Susan B. Anthony an American women’s rights activist once said, “the day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.” This wisdom warrants us to rethink on where we are in achieving gender parity.

The issue of political representation in Kenya is a case of disappointment.The two biggest coalitions in Kenya today, Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP) and the National Super Alliance (NASA) don’t have a woman at the helm.

JAP is firmly two men in, His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto. On the same breadth, NASA has four male principals and four male co-chairs of their National Coordinating Committee.

The National Assembly and the Senate have a combined total of 416 legislators. Only 86 of these are women and therefore women’s representation in both houses stands at 21 per cent. The same trend is replicated in the counties, where all the 47 Governors and majority of Members of the County Assemblies are male.

On education matters women are also lagging behind. The Uwezo learning assessment report of 2014 shows that 45 per cent of Kenyan mothers cannot read a Class 2 level story. Arid and semi-arid counties are the most affected, only 5 per cent of mothers can read.

Children of illiterate mothers are disadvantaged lot. Evidence shows that a 6-16 year old child whose mother has post-secondary education is almost twice more likely to read a Class 2 English story compared to a child whose mother has no education.

Moreover, the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) findings show that 7 per cent women have no education compared to 3 per cent men while 49 per cent of men have secondary education and above compared to 43 per cent women.  All these allude to the huge disparities between girls and boys as well as men and women.

As a country, we have a long way to go to achieve the 50-50 gender equality. Retrogressive cultures that degrade women should not be tolerated.  Women should be given equal opportunities in social, political and economic sectors.

Women understand problems and should be largely involved in political decisions. The best starting point is to ensure that all women are educated. An educated woman has voice and power.

Such women will bring positive change in the society as Brigham Young once noted, “you educate a woman; you educate a generation”.

(Francis Njuguna is a researcher with Twaweza East Africa.  The article does not necessarily represent the opinion of Twaweza East Africa. For feedback, send an email to [email protected])

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