The 2010 constitution was intended to transform the lives of Kenya’s marginalized groups, but, 10 years on, Kenyan women remain significantly disadvantaged. Natasha Kimani speaks to Lyndsey Jefferson about the obstacles that remain for women in Kenya as part of a series exploring women in international affairs.
In your paper, you write about how the Kenyan government allocated funds to women so they can participate in entrepreneurial activities and gain financial independence. However, many of the women who were able to access these funds came from more privileged backgrounds. How can the government make sure that these programmes reach marginalized and minority communities?
It’s about how the funds are advertised. The people who have access to this information are often more educated and have a deeper understanding of how the systems work. So, women in very rural areas rarely, if ever, hear about these opportunities. And when they do, even when they access the funds, they don’t know what to do with them. They don’t get the necessary training or equipment. Rarely does it go into developing their business ideas which leads them further into debt and places them in a worse position than they were before.
Do you think greater representation of women in public life would help Kenya achieve its gender equality goals? What challenges are there for women running for office in Kenya?
I believe an increased representation of women in government at various levels would differentially impact the lives of women and children because they are the most marginalized in society.
2017 was one of the most violent elections that women have participated in and there were increased cases of kidnappings and sexual harassment. Women were specifically targeted in very gendered ways and a lot of women backed out of the elections.
The environment has not been conducive for women and access has been extremely problematic especially at the party level. Even within the party structures themselves, women are unable to make their voices heard, and they need someone at a very high level to endorse them.
There are a lot of respectability politics that a woman must juggle. She must be married and it must be to a man of means who is respected in society. She must have children. She must be a woman who is scandal-free. And, mind you, scandal can be interpreted in many ways including a woman who refuses to fit into boxes that she has been placed in by society.
What about a woman who is single or divorced? There are many challenges that women face when they want to engage in politics. A lot of it is politically structured but it’s societal as well.
We have a constitution that is enabling gender equality. But a constitution is just a piece of paper if it’s not implemented – if the letter of the law is not respected.
In addition to tackling gender inequality, Kenya’s 2010 constitution also called for the devolution of government, with financial and administrative autonomy transferred to 47 county governments. This was intended to bring government services closer to the people and address the needs of minorities and women. It’s been seven years since this reform was implemented in 2013 – how has the devolved system done so far in achieving these goals?
The results have been slightly disappointing. While there has been increased participation, we see that the representation and responsiveness to women has remained exceptionally low. And if you look at the numbers, even when it came to the last election, the number of women who were elected into office was still quite low – for members of county assembly it was only 96 out of 1450.
In Kenya, running for office is exceptionally expensive. If you do not have the financial backing to do so, chances are you will not even get heard. As you know, women still are struggling to make ends meet. A good example of this is that even though women make up 80 per cent of farm labourers and manage 40 per cent of the country’s smallholder farms, they only own about one per cent of the agricultural land.
When it comes to devolution, sometimes we’re devolving corruption, but most importantly at the lower levels of government, the more rural it is, the more defined the paternalistic structures are.
You’ll notice that the county governments only engage women when it comes to conversations around maternal health care, breastfeeding or markets. When it comes to things that still affect women’s lives, like the repairing of roads, there’s rarely a woman in the meeting. Yet most of the women who walk to get water or travel to health facilities are women. They’re the ones who take their children to school, so why are they not being involved in this conversation?
Women are not involved, they’re not represented and budgets and policies are not responsive to their needs.
A woman poses with a message as hundreds of activists march to protest repeated failures to apply laws that women must hold at least a third of government seats in Nairobi, Kenya, on 22 January 2018. Photo: Getty Images.
One problem you highlight in your paper is that government officials don’t understand the impacts of budgets on women and the budgets are considered to be gender-neutral. Why is gender-responsive budgeting so critical to ensuring equality for women in Kenya?
We view budgets as something quite separate that doesn’t need the involvement of women or young people. Gender-responsive budgeting does not mean a separate budget specifically allocating funds for women. Nor does it need a specific amount of resources to be spent on gender equality objectives. It simply means that we are taking into consideration the different effects that government plans have on women and marginalized communities.
What policy examples from other countries can the Kenyan government learn from in order to meet the promises of the 2010 constitution?
Our neighbour Rwanda has made several strides. There is a specific gender office that is engaged to scrutinize the gender representation and responsiveness in the budget and give feedback to both local and national governments on its effectiveness.
Another example is South Africa which was the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to embrace gender responsive budgeting. One of the distinguishing features of South Africa’s gender budgeting initiative was the partnership between parliament and civil society. This arose following the end of apartheid with the adoption of the new constitution. So, what happened was, NGOs carried out research and fed this back to parliament which they used to scrutinize the budget.
Governments often claim that they do not have the technical expertise but you do not need to reinvent the wheel. There are organizations that already have this key information that can assist in shaping conversations and gender-budgeting initiatives. What are we doing to ensure that there are structures in place to actually allow organizations to give feedback to parliament on the policies that are being developed?
I would love to talk about Australia but I’m also cognizant of the fact that, oftentimes, Western solutions may not necessarily fit into African contexts. But Australia is a key example of ensuring that there is a gender statement so that every time there is an annual budget, governments are scrutinized for their impact on women and girls. Personally, I think that is a phenomenal approach.
You acknowledge that there are powerful cultural, political and economic factors that maintain the status quo. Which one do you think is the most pressing? Do you think change in Kenya will be achieved through only technocratic means or will mass movements also have to play a part?
Women’s movements have been doing the groundwork. There is a campaign on Twitter called ‘We Are 52%’ (#WeAre52pc) where Kenyan women are trying to highlight the constitutionality of the Kenyan executive, cabinet and parliament.
There’s only so much we can do if the executive and parliament are not actually taking cognizance of what’s happening. We have taken them to court, the courts have made their rulings and the last hurdle is adherence to the letter and spirit of the constitution.
A lot of Kenyan women and organizations are coming together to push for change. I am part of several caucuses and institutions that are trying to push for women to get elected in 2022. But there is only so much we can do as individuals, because we can only afford to back one or two women to run for office.
So what happens to the many others who want to engage? There is still a lot of work to be done especially in reshaping how we view women as presidents and county governors.
I saw a study the other day and young people were asked to draw a leader. 89 per cent of these young people drew a man! How do we ensure that there’s a shift between now and 2022, of how young people especially – because they’re the largest demographic – view female leadership?
There are a lot of gaps and not many organizations are focused on social and behavioural change campaigns which are needed so we can change the narrative around female leadership.
Natasha W. Kimani
Academy Associate, Africa Programme
Digital Editor, Communications and Publishing Department
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.