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February 23, 2019

Battle for equal treatment of women has not been won

Mapambano women group and Mambwende women in a tag of war./FILE
Mapambano women group and Mambwende women in a tag of war./FILE

There are pervasive claims, often without evidence, that the Kenyan boy is forgotten, left behind and adrift. Those who peddle this tale claim that we have taken affirmative action too far. In their view, girls are no longer left behind. Nothing could be more fallacious.

Here are some disconcerting statistics. The enrolment of girls in primary schools in counties such as Turkana, Garissa, Tana River, Samburu, Homa Bay, Wajir, Migori and Mandera is between 33 and 57 per cent lower than that of boys. For the KCPE class of 2012, 30 per cent more boys completed secondary education in 2016. Unemployment among rural women is about 68 per cent compared to 49 per cent among rural men. Moreover, participation in self-employment is 34 per cent higher among men than women.

Men comprise 81 per cent and 73 per cent of elected and nominated leaders in the National Assembly and Senate respectively. Women’s representation in Kenya’s legislative bodies remains shamefully below the constitutional minimum of 33 per cent. Similarly, women comprise only 21 per cent of Kenya’s Cabinet. Measured against Sustainable Development Goal 5, we are wanting.

Two articles in this week’s Economist are enlightening. The first article, ‘Why governments should introduce gender budgeting’, argues that failing to educate girls properly and unequal access to jobs have negative economic consequences. It notes that decreeing an end to discrimination against women is easier than making it happen. The article concludes that gender equality makes economic sense and hence should be measured and budgeted for.

The second article, ‘Why national budgets need to take gender into account’, observes that governments often treat spending on infrastructure as investment, but spending on social services such as child care as a cost. The article argues that investment in clean water and electricity reduces household chores and frees up time for mothers to find work outside the home and for girls to attend school.

It is unconscionable that in the 21st century women and girls are still treated like unworthy citizens. They are discriminated against in education. The labour force participation rate of males far outstrips that of women across many professions. Women’s empowerment, measured by the proportion of public service appointments and parliamentary seats, is disheartening.

Discrimination against women is barbaric and morally reprehensible. To paraphrase John Donne, discrimination against any woman diminishes me because it curtails their development, erodes their freedom of choice and undermines human progress.

Equality between men and women cannot be a discretionary privilege granted by men through law and at a moment of their choosing. While women are different from men, they are equal to men by the fact of their humanity. The rights of girls and women to liberty, choice and opportunity are inalienable human rights.

Protecting the rights of girls and women is a moral and ethical imperative. Hence, equality must be a core national value. Progress towards gender equality must be evident through equal treatment legislation, integration of women’s perspective into all policies and specific benchmarks for the advancement of girls and women.



Dr Alex O. Awiti is the director of the East African Institute at Aga Khan University

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