The Elephant in Kenya’s Room

We, the people of Kenya, claim to recognize the aspirations of all Kenyans for a government based on the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law. We also claim to promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, equity and freedom; and state categorically that our state shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth. We lie.

In February 2018, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) launched the Women and Men in Kenya booklet, contrasting the status of women and men in Kenya when it comes to population, health, education, employment, governance, domestic violence, decision-making, and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). As at 2016, Kenya had an estimated 22,498,000 women and 21,870,000 men (making the total population 44,368,000). According to this estimate, women form 50.71% of Kenya’s population.

However, according to the booklet, women provide 80% of Kenya’s farm labor and manage 40% of the country’s smallholder farms, yet they own only roughly 1% of agricultural land and receive just 10% of available credit. Despite bearing the burden of pregnancy and child rearing, fewer women than men across all age groups have access to family planning messages through radio, television and newspapers regardless of their level of education. Despite this, women bear the burden of contraceptive use, with uptake of the male condom at a measly 0% in North Eastern region, 2% in the Coast, Eastern, Central and Rift Valley regions and 3% in Nairobi, Western and Nyanza regions, while that of injectables (mainly Depo Provera which has been proven to have several health risks for women, such as increasing the chance that they will contract HIV by 49%) for example being 19% at the Coast, 2% in North Eastern, 38% in Eastern, 22% in Central, 27% in Rift Valley, 28% in Western, 29% in Nyanza, and 24% in Nairobi.

362 out of every 100,000 women who give birth die as a result of complications of pregnancy and child bearing. An overwhelming 37% of childbirths are at home, coming second only to deliveries in public hospitals at 46%. The conditions at public hospitals are dismal, and childbirth at home is dangerous. Women who give birth at home rarely have access to a skilled healthcare worker. The reason Rwanda was able to reduce maternal mortality by 77% between 2000 and 2013 is because of the increase in skilled providers (especially midwives) during childbirth. In 2010, 69% of the child deliveries in Rwanda were by a skilled healthcare provider.

It bears repeating that we have yet to pass the Reproductive Health Bill since it was tabled in 2014, yet it aims to provide for the recognition of reproductive rights, set the standards of reproductive health, and provide for the right to make decisions regarding reproduction free from discrimination, coercion and violence. The Bill aims to promote women’s health and safe motherhood, rapidly and substantially reduce maternal and child mortality rates in Kenya, as well as ensure access to quality and comprehensive provision of health care services to women and children. So much for our commitment to SDG 3, which aims for the achievement of good health and well-being (one of the ways is through reducing maternal mortality) and SDG 5, which aims for the achievement of gender equality.

When it comes to diseases, more women than men have been diagnosed with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Women across all age groups and levels of education also have lower comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS (which is a communicable disease) than men.

Men have higher levels of enrollment in all levels of education overall than women. This gap begins in secondary school, where it is slightly under 5%, and grows significantly in university where it is around 20% in public universities. The booklet does not state the cause, but possible reasons include early marriage and teen pregnancy.

Fewer women than men (up to 10% fewer) also apply for and receive loans for education in public universities. There is a 20% gap between men and women when it comes to enrollment in technical institutions, and a 10% gap when it comes to enrollment in TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) Institutions.

The situation is even starker in employment: Men are employed at almost double the rate of women in modern sector employment, where workers are 66% male and 34% female. In wage sector employment, men are employed at over double the rate of women in agriculture (the workforce is 67% male and 33% female), manufacturing (the workforce is 84% male and 16% female), and wholesaling (the workforce is 77% male and 23% female). In public administration wage employment, the workforce is 64% male and 36% female. The only wage employment sectors where there is almost parity are the education sector (the workforce is 53% male and 47% female) and service activities (the workforce is 48% male and 52% female).

Despite the existence of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (2015), women continue to experience high rates of abuse, mostly at the hands of current partners (57% of women who have been abused were abused by their current partners) and former partners (24% of women who have been abused). Almost 40% of women aged 15 – 49 have experienced physical violence (for men, it is under 10%), almost 15% of them have experienced sexual violence (for men, it is under 5%), and almost 35% of them have experienced emotional violence (for men, it is just over 20%).

Our Constitution states that women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. It also states that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender. This has yet to happen, and legislation enforcing this constitutional requirement has yet to be passed despite the Jubilee party having a parliamentary majority and constantly claiming it is committed to the empowerment of women. Across most public and elective posts (such as MCA, governor, deputy governor, senator, member of national assembly, cabinet secretaries, diplomatic corps, Supreme Court judges, and Court of Appeal judges) women are fewer than 33.33%.

The situation is even worse in the private sector. Over 80% of the members of boards of private sector companies, chairpersons of these boards; directors in the registered companies listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange and the chairpersons of the boards of these listed companies are men.

Women experience high levels of crimes against morality at the hands of men. Men commit up to 80% of the reported crimes against morality (women commit slightly over 20%), and are the key perpetrators of rape (over 80% of all reported rapes, including that of children, are committed by men). Men also commit 80% of all homicides, robberies, theft, offences related to drugs and other criminal offences. Because of this, men account for slightly over 80% of the prison population.

So much for the boy-child being left behind.

These figures paint a stark picture. They explain why Kenya’s Gender Equality Index is 38%. We still have light-years to go before we can live up to the ideals embodied in our Constitution. We have to close the gender gap across all areas: in employment, in healthcare, in education, and in payment for their work (women in Kenya earn 38% less than men on average). We have to strive to end violence against women, and we have to guarantee the representation of women in public and private institutions. Until then, when we claim to promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, equity and freedom in our Constitution, we lie.

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