The world celebrated the International Women’s Day on Tuesday. This was a chance to review the progress made towards realising gender equality.
Significantly, the theme this year was “Pledge for Parity”, which was a call to action to international and national leaders and communities to bridge the gap between men and women.
In Kenya, celebrations were organised countrywide and the national one was in Nairobi. The rallying call was the same. It is acknowledged that significant milestones have been made in narrowing the gender divide.
For Kenya, the Constitution provides the anchor for promoting gender equity. Several provisions in the law, among them the requirement that one-third of either gender must be represented in positions of leadership, marked a major step in opening up opportunities for women to take their rightful roles in management and governance.
Even so, it is widely recognised that disparities still exist. A recent report of the World Economic Forum made a grim projection — that gender equality may not be realised globally until 2095. In other words, the campaigns to bridge gender gaps will not achieve much this century.
At the national level, the representation of women in Parliament is still below the envisaged threshold of at least one-third. Elected women constitute an insignificant percentage because the electoral process is hostile to them.
Election campaigns are routinely marked by violence, insults, intimidation, and bribery, which simply put off many potential women candidates from pursuing political careers.
Similarly, fewer women than men are in top corporate leadership or engage in big-time business. Socialisation processes that start at home and run through the education system are skewed against women and minimise their chances of ascending to top corporate management or business.
Negative cultural practices and environmental factors combine to lock out many girls and women from education, therefore curtailing their potential for socio-economic growth and development.
Many initiatives introduced to narrow the disparities have not had the desired effect. For example, the millions of shillings allocated to the women’s fund have not translated into an improved financial status for women.
Thus, the onus is on the national and county governments to push for policies that secure opportunities for women to exploit their potential and be able to contribute to the development.