The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, due on March 8, is “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights”.
Women are often denied opportunities for being women. Gender equality is the equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender.
The campaign on realising women’s rights for an equal future demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and violence against women and girls, healthcare services that respond to their needs, and their equal participation in political life and decision-making.
Women and their needs are underrepresented in these aspects. This year is distinct: it marks 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, considered the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.
It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the progress in women’s economic empowerment, peace and security, leadership and participation and defeating gender-based violence.
Following deliberate actions, Kenya has made unprecedented progress. An International Finance Corporation report says the country has the highest number of women in Africa on company boards, at 19.8 per cent.
The global average is 15 per cent. Seven of the 21 Cabinet secretaries are women — though not yet the two-thirds envisaged in the Constitution.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said the women ministers he has appointed are diligent and committed to their work.
Sadly, though, women still face enormous constrains. They are underrepresented in decision-making processes, spend long hours doing unrecognised and unpaid-for chores, affecting attendance and performance in school and limiting options for paid work.
Young girls are victims of female genital cutting and are married off as young as 12.
Robbed of their childhood, they have to worry about the next meal for their husband and children when they should be in school and playing.
Women are more likely to be victims of violence. UNAIDS cites a recent study as saying 32 per cent of young women aged 18-24 years and 18 per cent of their male counterparts suffered sexual violence before they turned 18.
Women often do not own land and lack economic empowerment. Despite their huge contribution to economic progress, women globally are likely to be paid 10-30 per cent less than men on similar jobs and have a 30 per cent less chance at re-employment following financial misconduct.
My friend was renovating her house three months ago and hired plumbers, painters, tiling experts and tailors. Out of the seven workers, six were men; the woman was the tailor.
This points to gender inequality in education and training because we have been socialised to believe that there are tasks and careers for women and men.
Women have fewer choices than men. Former US first lady, senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in her famous speech in Beijing 25 years ago, said “women’s rights are human rights”.
We must look out for women and listen to them — and then address the barriers they face with the aim of solving their most pressing problems.
Notably, women make half of Kenya’s population. President Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four Agenda’ would, therefore, be unachievable without the economic participation of women or taking their needs into consideration.
Ms Muathe is a communications and advocacy manager at Waci Health. [email protected]