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 1,450.
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.