We must empower women as equal partners for economic growth

It is not difficult to see how gender equality is instrumental to a country’s economic growth. The United Nations estimates that up to 15 percent of a country’s GDP can be lost due to the unequal treatment of its women. Even our common sense and logic will tell us that utilising the productive capacity of half of our population—which in our culture has historically been associated with the traditional roles they play in our families—would significantly increase our national income. On the other hand, it is not similarly straightforward that when economic growth is present, women’s economic empowerment follows.

In order to meaningfully facilitate the latter, a carefully crafted politico-legal framework is required that touches on a multitude of areas in private as well as public life. These range from individual rights guaranteed by the constitution, marital laws and ownership rights to electoral laws, law enforcement and even the healthcare sector.

Although Kenya made notable progress with regard to gender equality with the introduction of our amended constitution in 2010, the considerable part of the previously mentioned framework has been built under Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency. The Matrimonial Properties Act (2013), the Marriage Act (2014), the National Policy and Action Plan on Human Rights (2016), and the Land Act (2016) are merely a few examples of policies that our Parliament has passed since President Uhuru Kenyatta took office.

Importantly, there are particular challenges associated with the practical promotion of gender equality that go far beyond the legal recognition that every person is equal before the law and has equal protection and benefit of it. The United Nations emphasises that women are much less likely to have access to financial institutions and bank accounts than their male counterparts. As a consequence, women are much less likely to be entrepreneurs and it is estimated that their independent business-related activities can amount to even less than half of that of men in some cases.

It showed great foresight and progressiveness on the part of Uhuru to have established the Uwezo Fund merely four months into his presidency, aiming to tackle this challenge. The Fund has encouraged women to start their own businesses by way of providing mentorship schemes and training in management as well as access to funding. By collaborating with the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) programme too, the Uwezo Fund has also helped women tap into the 30 percent of procurement opportunities that are specifically reserved for disadvantaged groups in our economy.

Violence and harassment, however, are issues that can still impede on women’s personal safety and professional success, even if they work independently. According to a UN report, such problems affect them regardless of location, age, income or social status. Thanks to the thoroughness and careful attention of the government, the National Policy on Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence and the Protection against Domestic Violence Act came into effect by 2015 bringing about tangible results that not only can our nation be proud of, but which many of our political partners across the Commonwealth applaud. The number of newly prosecuted cases for gender-based violence and resultant convictions sharply increased over the past four years, making our country safer and more accommodating for women.

More recently, during the preparation period preceding the Nairobi-based International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in November this year, it was highlighted that our society is greatly divided over the use of contraceptives and women’s access to certain healthcare services, among other issues.

While abortion is still a taboo topic among the devoutly religious and likely to remain so, increasing the amount and coverage of services provided to women to plan for families and sustain healthy pregnancies would not violate the values many of us share. Moreover, such rights are essential in the context of women’s economic empowerment too, although many people still do not recognise this. We should not be blind to the limitations that women suffer due to early marriages, unplanned pregnancies or erratic healthcare provisions. These issues are just as integral to our country’s economic progress as job creation.

Uhuru seems to recognise the importance of this overarching set of reforms in the greater context of Kenya’s success. He needs the support of our nation too to succeed. Enabling women to partake as equal members of our society as well as our economy should come naturally to all of us who wish to see the country reach ever-higher rates of sustainable growth and an increase in all of our standards of living.

Mr Mugolla comments on topical issues.bumgolla@gmail.com

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