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The Changing Role of Women in Kenya

The Changing Role of Women in Kenya by Colette Weil Parrinello, FACES Magazine, March 2016, Cricket Media, Chicago, IL

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The Changing Role of Women in Kenya

  1. 1. 16  The Role Women by Colette Weil Parrinello of Changing Women take part in a women’s rights rally.
  2. 2. Kenya, like most African nations, is male-dominated. Men run the government, own the land, livestock, and businesses, but this is changing. Kenya made the most improvements in gender equality laws for improvement of the women’s situation between the years of 2009 and 2011 than any country in the world. While the role of Kenyan women varies by ethnicity and by rural and urban areas, women suffer economically, physically, socially, and politically from gender inequality. The new 2010 constitution specifically gave women the same legal rights as men to land, court access, inheritance, nationality, and freedom of movement. Cultural change is exceedingly slow and many women and judicial officials are unaware of the new laws. The family is the centerpiece of Kenyan culture and the traditional role of women is to serve the family. Kenyan women are said to have ‘double workdays’ — they work twice as hard as men. Agricultural sector information shows women do 80 percent of the food production, 50 percent of the cash crop production, 80 percent of the food storage and transport from farm to home, 90 percent of the weeding, and 60 percent of the harvesting and marketing of crops. This is along with all the family, household, and childcare duties. Unemployment is 40 percent. Large cities like Nairobi are similar to cities in the West with greater gender equality, more educational opportunities and a growing middle class. But women have far fewer job prospects than men and earn less than a man for the same job. 17 More Kenyan women are entering the workplace.
  3. 3. The birth of a girl has been viewed as a means to wealth from a dowry when she gets married. For rural families, the dowry could be livestock or for urban families, cash, or goods. It is a long-standing cultural practice for men to have more than one wife, known as a customary marriage. The husband is required to have a house for each wife. Wealthier men find this a good investment, as the wife will take care of the house, farm, children, elderly, and the sale of crops. In 2014 President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the new marriage law. The law allows a man to now legally marry as many women as he wants in a traditional (customary) ceremony and without consulting his wife. The law legalizes polygamy. Being in a polygamous marriage is a strong predictor of low education and low wealth for women. However, the legal recognition of customary wives now gives them rights if the husband dies and recognizes the rights and legitimacy of the children. Additionally, the wife is entitled to 50 percent of property acquired during the marriage. The law also banned marriages for people under 18. It’s not uncommon in country areas for girls to marry at 15 and sometimes younger. The law also outlawed the dowry system. 18  Kenya values education. More than 44 percent of university students are women. In 2012, Kenya passed the revised Education Bill of 2012, which states every child has the right to free and compulsory education. The bill also states that a child may not be employed or work if it prohibits the child from attending school. For rural families, access to qualified schools, supplies, and teachers is difficult. Despite the problems, the national literacy rate is 85.1 percent. But far fewer women than men receive a complete education. Forty-seven percent of girls in rural areas do not complete primary school. Families expect the girls to marry, so why bother with further education. Girls are also required to help at home, work the farms, sell surplus crops at market, collect the water, and gather firewood for meals. Kenya is a new democratic republic. Exclusionary and discriminatory practices have kept women from participation in government. The 2010 constitution set Kenya on a new course for gender equality that included political representation. Specifically, no gender could be more than 2/3 of the 350 member National Assembly and 47 seats were reserved for women. There are now 65 female members. The Upper House Senate has 68 seats of which 18 are reserved for women. The increased number of women in government has directly impacted new key legislation for women. Kenya recognizes the important role women play in the economy and took specific steps to accelerate and protect women’s involvement. The Constitution and the laws enacted are backed by funds to protect girls and women and help them achieve higher educational levels, legal equality to men, improved status, better jobs and health care, and economic empowerment. The new road for women has started, but changing long held traditions and beliefs will be a difficult journey. An elderly woman takes part in a recent election.
  4. 4. Colette Weil Parrinello is a frequent writer for children’s magazines and is a co-regional advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Fast Facts • More and more Kenyan women are role models. Conservationist Wangari Maathai fought against a housing development planned for the Karura Forest. In 2003, she was appointed the deputy minister in the Ministry of Environment, Resources, and Wildlife. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. • Lorna Kiplagat is a four-time World Champion. She won the Los Angeles Marathon twice. She set up the first Kenyan high altitude training center for runners. She is a successful businesswoman and philanthropist, and she started the Lorna Kiplagat Foundation. • Hon. Lady Justice Njoki S. Ndun’gu is a Judge of the Supreme Court of Kenya. She is the architect of the Sexual Offenses Act of 2006, the maternity and paternity leave amendments to the Employment Act of 2007, and the amendments on affirmative action for women in political participation to the Political Parties Act in 2007. • The government-funded Women’s Enterprise Fund (WEF) has helped 864,920 women fund businesses and trained more than 404,800 women on business management skills. 19 A woman casts her vote for president. In 1997, Charity Ngilu became the first Kenyan woman to run for president.