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The Attempted Empowerment of Women in Kenya

 article about The Attempted Empowerment of Women in Kenya
With the spread of feminism across much of the economically developed world during the 20th century, females across these nations embrace freedom and new opportunities. On the contrary, women and girls in nations that are still developing economically still suffer under a patriarchal society.

 

Indeed, a definite linkage has been demonstrated between greater access of young females to educational opportunities, health improvements, family planning and economic development. Although great improvements and efforts have been made in the past to emancipate less affluent women, the feminization of poverty is still as apparent today as it was 20 years ago.

 

On a global scale, there are an increasing number of women than men who are victims of poverty. While these women produce 75 percent to 90 percent of food crops in the world, they are responsible for running their households. According to the United Nations, there is not a country in the world where

men come close to women in the amount of time spent on housework. Furthermore, despite the efforts of feminist movements, women in the core still suffer disproportionately. This leads to what sociologists refer to as the feminization of poverty, where two out of three poor adults are women. The informal slogan of the Decade of Women became, Women do two-thirds of the worlds work, receive 10 percent of the worlds income and own one percent of the means of production. [i]

 

Despite being arguable, one of the more economically and socially advanced countries, Kenya, in Africa still has to battle traditionalism and socially acceptable practices that demean women. Traditional culture still allows a man to discipline his wife by physical means and traditional.Yet damaging practices such as female genital mutilation are still widespread.

 

Additionally, women in Kenya also have a poor representation in politics. In 2001 there were only eight women in the Kenyan parliament and none in President Mois cabinet. Kenya therefore languishes at the bottom of the Easter and Southern African region in terms of womens representation in government. Moreover, women are also poorly represented in the civil service, with only 23 percent in the higher cadres.

 

One major aspect of women emancipation is education. Women with more education tend to delay childbearing. The number of adolescent pregnancies fell as women were informed of contraception and educated in sexual matters; thus, the average family-size reduced, thereby increasing income and non-market productivity. During the 1980s the primary school attendance rate for girls aged six to 13, reached a peak of 85 percent. Unfortunately, this rate has fallen to 10 percent. Furthermore, drop out rates are high, with fewer than half of enrollments (485) actually completing their education.

 

After gaining independence from Britain in 1963, only 50 percent of Kenyan children were enrolled in primary education; this however, rose in excess of 30 percent to reach its peak in the mid 1980s. In secondary education, there was a further growth; an unparalleled growth of 2000 percent was seen. [ii] National literacy levels reached 70 percent in 1989: females rose 10 percent and males rose almost 40 percent. Disappointingly though, such trends did not continue throughout the 1990s. In truth, indications are that there has been a reversal of progress.

 

Numerous barriers exist in Kenya, which prevent young females from meeting their full potential in education, thus closing the gender gap that exists. These barriers include sexual, cultural and financial. In terms of sexual barriers, girls are kept out of school for initiation rites such as female genital mutilation. There is widespread sexual harassment throughout schools, with girls suffering sexual abuse, often by their own male classmates. Furthermore, poverty has forced a number of girls to abandon education and enter child prostitution.Cultural barriers also prohibit females from prospering in education. Often the migratory lifestyles of nomadic people forces girls to leave education and to follow their parents, with males often still left in education. There are also concerns from many nomadic people that the school curriculum is not appropriate to the needs and interests of typical nomads. Financially, poverty and the high cost of schooling are not compatible, Many poverty stricken families, including those in arid/semi-arid areas where drought is frequent thereby influencing crop availability are unable to afford education for all of their children.

 

Kenya has made enormous strides towards universal enrollment. Yet Kenyan parents and educators are very concerned about educating their children, claims Barbara S Mensch, associate of Kenyas Ministry of Education and the Population Council. She concludes, The finding that emerged most strongly from out work is that teachers undermine girls. Girls have great difficulty achieving in an environment that favors boys. (iii]

 

Nevertheless, significant advances have been made recently as women appear to be gaining status and recognition. The year 2000 saw a momentous ruling whereby the Kenyan Rift Valley Provincial court issued a court order against a father, who had not obtained the consent of his daughters, to undergo female genital mutilation. The court instantaneously issued an injunction, preventing the father from proceeding with his intentions.

 

It was announced n January 17th 2003 that the new Kenyan government, guided by the principles of democracy, good governance and promotion of human rights, would counteract such gender discrimination and expand and clarify the definition of discrimination to include further classifications, including gender, race and marital status.

 

 

A typical Kenyan woman

 

Despite the barriers that still exist, optimism is beginning to surround this East African nation.Furthermore, while effort has gone into enhancing the position of females in Kenyan society, traditionalism and religious values often stand in the way. Since first proposed in 1999, the Kenyan Equality Bill has created religious and political controversy. Although women liberation and human rights groups welcome it, a number of Christians and Muslims are almost united in their opposition. Arguably, the greatest threat to the Equality Bill has come from Islam who maintains that it goes against the traditional Islamic culture that a woman or a girl is always subordinate to their father or husband. Protests have been ongoing in the last four to five years and culminated in demonstrations by Muslim women in the streets of Nairobi. Protesters claimed that Muslim women were liberated 1,400 years ago, and accused the bill of violating sacred religious values. Much work therefore lies ahead, if these diametrically opposed groups are going to reconcile and females have full empowerment.

 

 

[i] Richard H. Robbins Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism (Allyn and Bacon 1999 p.354)

[ii] Education of Girls in Kenya Efforts and challenges Helen Omondi Mondoh (www.makereere.ac.ug)

[iii] Kenya Studies its Schools to Identify Obstacles for Girls



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