Author: Juliet Nyamao
Human Rights Attorney, Kenyan Bar
According to Amnesty International’s Africa 2017/2018 report, women disproportionately bear the brunt of poverty. Persistent discrimination, marginalisation and abuse of women and girls, have systematically become institutionalised by unjust laws. Although the Constitution of Kenya guarantees equal rights and freedoms for both men and women, long-standing gender inequalities have significantly impeded the overall contribution of women and girls in achieving Kenya’s sustainable development agenda.
Women have not only been subjected to the worst forms of human rights violations, but they have also been consistently denied their right to active participation in the country’s growth and development, simply because of their gender. Women’s lack of socio-economic independence, as well as a prejudiced Kenyan society, both highlight gross violations of their inherent human rights including equal protection of the law. Addressing the longstanding gender inequalities and promoting women’s economic empowerment would be pivotal in accelerating achievements of the sustainable development goals in Kenya, and globally.
Kenya has one of the world’s highest rates of population growth, with half of its population living below the national poverty line. Consequently, many Kenyans lack access to quality education, health services, food, water and other important social services. After the promulgation of Kenya’s Constitution in 2010, women were determined to take up political and other leadership roles like their male counterparts. During the August 2017 general elections, many women aspirants vied for various political positions. This resulted in an increase in women’s representation in parliament, from 16 to 22 following the 2012 and 2017 general elections, respectively. Despite this milestone, women aspirants and politicians continue to face constant criticisms, hate speech and gender-based violent attacks from members of the public. The electioneering period is among the worst times for women in Kenya. Violence has been used to deter many women from seeking political and other leadership positions, as well as exercising their voting rights. Despite the milestones so far achieved, Kenyan women’s representation in leadership and politics falls short of the global average.
A 2011 International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)/Bardall study on violence against women in elections established that women and men encounter electoral violence divergently, with women experiencing more than twice as much violence as their male counterparts. Thwarting women’s political participation greatly undermines their social, civil and political rights as enshrined in the Constitution as well as international conventions on women’s rights. Violence against women in politics also threatens to perpetuate gender inequality and human rights violations. Therefore, it is in the interests of the State to adequately take measures to address violence against women in politics and leadership positions to accelerate gender equality and the political empowerment of women.
Women make up a greater percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector as well as other informal employment sectors. However, majority do not have access and control over land and other properties. Gender inequality in access and control of land and property is rampant owing to discriminatory inheritance and succession practices, disproportionate access to land and unfair land and property rights reforms. Despite legislative reforms bestowing women the same rights as men in ownership of land and property, women are disproportionately disadvantaged due to the persistent discriminatory customary practices that are patriarchal in nature. Although, women are the pillar of agriculture in Kenya, which is a great source of income, for the most part, land is left to the male members of the family to inherit or own. These unjust customary laws and practices contribute to persistent gender inequality and give poverty a predominantly female face, since many women are dependent on men for financial support. Insignificant proportion of women in Kenya have registered titles to land. Similarly, women have access to less than 10% of available credit, and less than 1% of agricultural credit. To improve the gender inequality, action must be taken to accelerate women’s access to resources by addressing persistent barriers that hinder realization of their land and property rights. Increasing women’s access to credit facilities, will likely improve food security and alleviate poverty. Economically empowered women actively participate in decision making, which is significant in addressing the diverse growth and developmental challenges that have rocked Kenya and the African continent at large.
Nevertheless, Kenya has made great strides in improving the status of women and girls. The 2016 report of the African Human Development Index, ranked Kenya 18th in Africa, and 145th globally, in enhancing gender equality. The report highlighted that sub-Saharan Africa was losing an average of $95 billion a year due to gender inequality. Kenya was also recognised at the Assembly for Women Conference in 2016 for prioritising girl child education and women’s political participation as drivers of change. Implementation of gender equality laws, however, still remains a challenge. Although the government of Kenya has passed land laws to protect inheritance rights and eradicate customary practices that impede women’s access to property, many women continue encountering challenges to accessing the legal justice system for enforcement of these rights. It will require substantial effort and political will to ensure existing laws are applied entirely in all the counties in the country.
The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets gender equality as one of the most crucial goals that countries must aim to achieve. Kenya must commit to take positive measures to ensure indiscriminate and effective access to resources and services. Promoting women empowerment is also an ideal model of addressing gender inequality. For Kenya to achieve the 5th Sustainable Development Goal, the government, civil society organisations, development partners, women leaders and other stakeholders must collaborate to protect women from discrimination, eradicate persistent discriminatory practices that hinder the realisation of women’s human rights, and ensure women’s equal protection under the law. Additionally, Kenya must formulate gender-mainstreaming policies to correct the historical gender inequalities and accelerate sustainable development goals spearheaded by women.
About the Author:
Juliet Nyamao is a Human Rights Attorney admitted to the Kenyan Bar. She received her LLB from Moi University School of Law (Kenya) and LLM from Georgetown University Law Centre (USA). Juliet completed her fellowship in Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa at Georgetown University Law Center. She is currently a fellow at the American Bar Association-USA.
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