“The woman is a powerhouse of creativity, development and peace. Conflict between men and women is therefore unnecessary because a woman brings an equal and powerful complementarity to the common human condition,” the late Award-winning author, medical doctor, and world-renowned pro-life advocate – Dr Margaret Ogola.
International Women’s Day, globally celebrated on March 8th is a day that commemorates struggles and accomplishments of women in the past, present and future, while seeking untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.
Women truly are the backbone of any given society. As one of Kenya’s great women champions, the late Dr Margaret Ogola rightly puts it, “The woman is the heart of the family, and the family is the corner stone of society. Women have been entrusted with the capacity to transmit life which is the most precious gift that anybody can give or receive. Without life no other good is possible.”
Given that women already play such fundamental roles and in Kenya constitute a population of slightly over 50 per cent, it is of grave necessity that she be involved in achieving Vision 2030 goals, and more importantly actualizing national development.
Over the years Kenya has made great strides towards promoting and increasing women’s participation in national development across the economic, political and social sectors. The government’s key goal within the Vision 2030 regarding women has been to reduce gender disparities by making fundamental changes in four areas, namely: opportunity, empowerment, capabilities and vulnerabilities.
Coming from a background where majority of her culture has been male-dominated, Kenya is fast emerging in bridging the gap and allowing women to put their best foot forward. This has been best demonstrated in education, leadership and entrepreneurship. Attesting to this, the 2016 report of the African Human Development Index, HDI, ranked Kenya 18 in Africa and 145 globally in advancing gender equality.
Moreover, during the 2016 Assembly for Women Conference, Kenya was awarded for doing well in ensuring that education for the girl child was given priority and in recognizing women in politics.
The statistics reiterate that education continues to play an important role as a foundation for girls’ development towards adult life. According to the 2007 MDG Civil Society report education for women was identified as key to their participation in national development. Education therefore is crucial because it enhances the life opportunities of women, and their families, as well as widening their life choices, access to knowledge and information.
Furthermore, it creates powerful poverty-reducing synergies that yield enormous inter-generational gains. So much so that it is correlated with increased economic productivity, more robust labour markets, higher earnings, and improved societal health and well-being.
Kenya recognises the importance of education as a basic right for all its children and has been striving to ensure equitable education and training opportunities for girls and boys. Statistics report that there has been tremendous growth in access to education.
Drivers include governmental interventions such Free Education, Free Day Secondary Education introduced in 2003 and 2008 respectively. Today, more girls are completing the full education cycle and progressing beyond secondary education to tertiary, even reaching Doctorate levels.
Taking it a notch higher, Kenya has also enhanced economic platforms and legislative measures to level the playing field for women.
In the instance of economic platforms the government has created finance institutions to provide women access to funds in developing and growing their business ventures. Under this category fall affirmative funds, with core being the Women’s Enterprise Fund (WEF). WEF was established in step to realizing the 1st & 3rd Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction, and Gender Equality & Women Empowerment respectively.
The fund serves as a wholesome business solution to all the challenges womenfolk face in trying to create economic space to be at par with men. It achieves this by providing business support services such as capacity building, local and international marketing, promoting linkages between micro, small and medium enterprises, investment infrastructures and support. Additionally it provides accessible and affordable credit to support women start and expand their businesses for wealth and employment creation.
Demonstrating how driven and resilient Kenyan women are, the fund has seen about 1.3 million Kenya women benefit in the past four years from a disbursement of Sh6.7 billion from the total national disbursement at inception of Sh9.6 billion. Kenyan women have proved their tenacity and trustworthiness in that their repayment rate stands at 92 per cent.
Another economic platform the government is tapping on to empower women is under the legislative policy that states that 30 per cent of public procurement is set aside for women and youth. So beyond providing funds, the government is creating employment opportunities for women as well as room for businesses to grow from small to medium to large enterprises.
Reports indicate that this particular platform translate to about $2.2 billion per year worth of business. Since June 2013, more than 54,000 businesses have been registered under the programme and more than 6,000 companies have already received business from the government.
In regards to legislation, Acts such as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 2015, Prohibition of FGM Act 2011, the Sexual Offences Act 2006 as well as the National Policy on Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence 2014 have provided frameworks for the protection of women.
Finally on leadership, Kenya has demonstrated appreciation of the significance of having women in active leadership. A testament of this was the full-fledged support for Foreign Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed’s run for the African Union Commission. Her candidature was so strong that she survived to the final round: evidencing that Kenya has a pool of the most brilliant women in Africa.
While CS Mohamed is a shining example of aspiring and following after your dreams, Kenya has opened its leadership platform to more women through the establishment of a fully-fledged State Department of Gender Affairs.
Other areas where gender inequality has been narrowed include the legislature where women make 25 per cent of Parliamentarians, at the Cabinet level women hold 25.5 per cent of the positions while 37 per cent hold high-level positions in judiciary, 34 per cent Principal secretary positions and at the county level 50 per cent of all Members of County Assemblies are women. Moreover the two third gender rule allows for more women to get into political leadership and champion agendas for the good of fellow women and Kenya as a whole.
As we celebrate this achievements let us not forget those who have made great effort to change the narrative for women. Women who came before us and strived to break the barriers to ensure that women and girls are able to realize their aspirations without limitations due to their gender. They have relentlessly pushed and pioneered change in education, leadership, and business, among other sectors, so that women have more choices and take their rightful position in nation building.
As we celebrate 2017 International Women’s Day, let the steps taken by our nation towards gender inclusivity and the shining examples of women past, present and future inspire both young and old to step up and reach for the highest goals. Of course this is a journey that cannot be walked alone, men are lead proponents. Therefore let us work together, hand in hand to a better, more gender inclusive Kenya.
(The author is the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs. [email protected])