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QUALITY LIFE

Women empowered but disempowered

Legislation alone cannot achieve this paradigm shift. Penalties do not break patterns.

In Summary
  • While most people agree that it is necessary and desirable, many tend to only consider the economic aspect of women’s empowerment.
  • The problem with empowerment of women in Kenya is that we are largely a patriarchal society which tends to have a high fertility rate and earlier marriages.
A public hearing on the two-thirds gender rule.
STORY OF FAILURE: A public hearing on the two-thirds gender rule.
Image: FILE

Africa, and Kenya in particular, has come a long way from the stereotype of a man walking on the road with a staff in his hand, wife trailing behind carrying firewood on her head, a child on her back and another suckling her breast. A long way yes, but not far enough.

A lot has been said and written about women’s empowerment that it has become almost a cliché, especially in political and civil society circles. While most people agree that it is necessary and desirable, many tend to only consider the economic aspect of women’s empowerment. The subject is much deeper and more multifaceted than that.

So what really is women’s empowerment?

It is accepting and allowing women into the decision-making process. It means giving individuals power over their own lives and in society at large. People are empowered when they are able to take advantage of available opportunities, without limitations and restrictions in areas such as education, profession, lifestyle and politics.

Take education for instance. It is key to the competence a woman has in making life decisions. Educated women tend to have fewer children and earn higher incomes, improving both their lives and their families’, and their country’s economy as well.

Knowledge is power. Educated women stand a better chance of obtaining rights such as child support and accessing social services. They are also more likely to have gained the knowledge and the confidence to defend themselves against social malpractices such as discrimination at the workplace and sexual harassment.

Teenage pregnancies and child marriage take away the opportunities for women to get an education, which would save them from a life of drudgery and broken dreams. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are critical to empowering women. A woman who has no control over how many children she can have and when, loses power over the quality of her life and her children’s, lacking the time or the resources to gain the skills or income she needs to improve this quality.

While Kenya tops East Africa in the use of modern contraceptive methods among married women (55 per cent), there is the larger population of unmarried women and girls who do not access or use family planning services. And have no doubt about it, planned families empower women.

A young woman who holds back from having her first child until she has finished her education faces a much better prospect of greater opportunities in life, higher earnings and better health for her and her family.

Let’s be a bit more creative and use the carrot rather than the stick – rewarding couples who delay and space childbearing, reinforced through social network channels to empower the girl-child through learning by peer group influence.

If she then spaces out the births of subsequent children again she and they will continue in all likelihood to benefit from a more constant and larger income, a healthier family and better chances in life being passed on to the next generation.

The problem with empowerment of women in Kenya is that we are largely a patriarchal society which tends to have a high fertility rate and earlier marriages.

Gender norms and related behaviours are also reinforced in systems and institutions, reaffirming women’s position as less advantaged than men in terms of access to health, education, financial and agricultural extension services.

The empowerment of women is also hampered by gender-based violence including sexual violence and rape. Polygamy, early marriage and other harmful cultural and traditional practices such as female genital mutilation still hinder the progress of women.

There must therefore be a societal shift in gender norms and related behaviours through the adoption of policies and initiatives to empower women. Our political leadership must promote the adjusting and setting of social norms by discussing and encouraging women’s participation in society.

Legislation alone cannot achieve this paradigm shift. Penalties do not break patterns.

Let’s be a bit more creative and use the carrot rather than the stick – rewarding couples who delay and space childbearing, reinforced through social network channels to empower the girl-child through learning by peer group influence.

An empowered female population will enhance both the quality and quantity of human resources available for Kenya’s development.

Human Resources consultant