In spite of a steady increase in the number of female graduates, women account for a small proportion of employees within the construction sector in Kenya.
Statistics provided by Engineers Board of Kenya show that female graduates account for 10.6 per cent of the total number of engineering graduates recorded by the institution. This means that out of 14,320 graduates, only 1,519 are female.
The latest admission trends by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) show that male students dominate lucrative science courses in universities and colleges, edging out their female counterparts.
The huge disparity between male and female students in the uptake of science courses, raises questions on gender equality in higher education in the country.
Chief Executive Officer KUCCPS Dr John Muraguri presented a report on the disparity during International Conference on University Reforms held in Nairobi last month. It indicates that between 2014 and 2019, between 76 per cent and 82 per cent of engineering students were male.
“The gap has been decreasing gradually since 2014, when it was 82 per cent male against 18 per cent female. However, a huge disparity of 76 per cent male against 24 per cent female remains,” the report titled Women and Higher Education: Gender Trends in Higher Education in Kenya (Enrolment and Fields of Study) says in part.
In health sciences like medicine, nursing and pharmacy, the report says male students are still way ahead of their female counterparts. It shows that between 2014 and 2017, there was a slow growth in number of female students enrolling for health science courses.
However, between 2017 and 2018, there was a rise in female enrollment in these courses from 31 per cent to 48 per cent before declining to 43 per cent in 2019.
In hospitality courses, female students dominate though the gender gap is gradually diminishing.
The report reveals that historically, the gender representation in university admissions in the country has favoured male students.
To curb the disparity, the Joint Admissions Board introduced affirmative action by lowering the aggregate university entry points in favour of female candidates, initially by one point and later, two points.
This improved the ratio although disparities still prevailed in specific programs like engineering, nursing and hospitality among others.
“Over the years, there has been a gradual narrowing of the gender gap, but much still need to be done,” the report says.
The findings in the KUCCPS report are supported by a survey which revealed the number of women in the construction industry in the country is extremely low.
The survey on Women in Real Estate (WIRE) shows the real estate industry is dominated and controlled by men.
David Riitho who graduated with a Master of Science in Finance from the University of Nairobi (UON) last December, says the gender parity in science-related courses is evident in universities.
“In our class, we had about 60 per cent male and 40 per cent female, which is much better since even though it is classified as a science, it is also a business course. The statistics are much different in other science fields like engineering, architecture and medicine among others,” he says.
Dr Dalmus Omia who is in charge of research at the Institute of Anthropology and Gender Sciences at UON, says the refusal to address structural causes of the gender bias is what ails the country as far as gender parity in sciences is concerned.
He adds that fixing gender parity should start at the primary school level by making girls understand that sciences are not a man’s thing.
The don suggests the introduction of mentorship clinics in primary schools to teach pupils, especially girls, on the benefit of sciences and demystify the notion that they are difficult.
“We have to de-masculine the science and make the girls know that they are not only a preserve for their male counterparts. Affirmative action in university admission is not enough since it actually only comes to stigmatise girls by making them feel inferior,” says Dr Omia.
Eunice Muthoni a parent and a surveyor by profession, says the country is to blame for the gender disparity in science courses uptake.
Muthoni says she was the only female student in a class of 16 during her undergraduate studies at the UON. She notes that girls have been made to believe that mathematics and sciences are very hard for them to handle.
“The problem starts with poor parenting. We should start from the house and encourage girls to do even things that are seen as reserved for boys. Girls have been made to shy away from science courses and this attitude must be changed,’ she says.
Dr Mary Kimani the dean School of Built Environment at UON says the low number of women in the industry is replicated in local universities, which have few women taking real estate, construction and science-related courses.
To tame the gender parity, KUUCCP has put in place a placement policy that provides for affirmative action on gender, persons with disabilities and the marginalised/minorities.
It is applied by lowering overall university entry requirements by two points for female candidates.
In the 2019 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam results released in December last year, female candidates performed well in language and art subjects while boys did well in sciences.
Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha said girls did better than the boys in English, Kiswahili, CRE, Home Science, Art and Design, German and Kenya Sign Language, a striking similarity to the previous years. In 2016, girls also performed well in English, Kiswahili, CRE, Home Science, Art and Design and Electricity.
The case was no different in 2017 as girls recorded an outstanding performance in English and Kiswahili, Christian Religious Education, Art and Design, Metalwork and Home Science.
Last week, Opposition leader Raila Odinga who spoke when he graced the opening of a two-day workshop to train engineers, challenged women to pursue engineering courses, which he said were still dominated by men.
“We have a lot of opportunities, which women can fill. It is a high time we encourage girls in school to pursue engineering-related courses,” Raila said.