A number of heavily entrenched cultural practices and policy orientation continue to frustrate efforts and gender equity in our country.
At the economic level, requirements for example for loans are pegged on collaterals such as land title deeds, yet traditionally women rarely inherited land thus fund almost impossible to get loans from financial institutions.
In places where they require pay slips, given the lower numbers of women in formal employment, they still struggle to get secured financial assistance or loans to help them start businesses.
Work place discrimination is still prevalent in some sectors, which tend to push women out of formal jobs and the circle continues. Such requirements or blind spots in policy have meant that even with an improved legal environment and progressive thinking around the issue of gender equality and equity, success stories are hard to come by especially where it matter most, on the decision making table at the grassroots or where women are very active.
Traditionally, women have been part of the informal and later formal saving culture of “chamas”, merry –go- rounds and saving practices especially in the rural areas and informal sector.
A number of women in informal businesses make several attempts to save and even in formal employment, they form the bulk of members of cooperative movement in Kenya.
But even as women make nearly 30 percent of the cooperative movement/Saccos in Kenya, its not surprising that they only make 9 per cent of the top leadership of the sector.
Given the critical role played by the SACCO movement in economic jump starting and maintaining especially small and medium enterprises in Kenya, you obviously see the disadvantages that come with women missing in top management of majority of the cooperative movement.
Fredrick Nyagah from Global Communities notes that this is happening when even with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to which Kenya is a signatory recommends increasing women's participation the coops at all levels while Sustainable Development Goal No Five obligates Kenya to ensure it achieves gender equality and empowers all women and girls. Focus seems more at the political level than in such economic realms where it really matters for people.
“Out concern is that while at the national level, the government recognizes the co-operative movement as a critical player in pursuit equitable and sustainable development acknowledging this in the National Co-operative Policy (Sept 2019) and calling for gender mainstreaming in the sector, as one of the cross-cutting issues, we seem not making steady progress and much needs to be done” Nyagah notes in a recent presentation to journalists.
Fidela Wambiya from Global Communities in his discussion noted that by the end of 2017, the Cooperative movement in Kenya had mobilized savings to the tune of Sh 730 billion, advanced over Sh 700 billion to their members and controlled assets worth more the Sh1 trillion.
It is estimated that 63% of Kenya’s population participates directly or indirectly in co-operative based societies contributing about 31% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Employees of the national and county governments, given their appreciation of the co-operative societies’ immense potential for wealth and employment creation, environmental management, social inclusion and major role in the development of agriculture, financial services, housing, trade, manufacturing, transport, among other sectors of Kenya’s economy, thus value and support existing of strong SACCOs, its disturbing that women are largely missing in their top management- where decisions on key issues are made-which tends to disadvantage women a lot.
Judie Kaberia from the Voice for Women and Girls Rights Project extends the unending frustrations in the push for gender equity to partly to reluctance by the media to delve and expose some of these outdated policies that implicitly stand in the way of protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls.
Without sufficient safeguards and barriers to access such fundamental things like mortgages, loans or sitting on the decision making tables of key sectors, women empowerment will still remain a challenge.
If gender is not only main streamed in such critical sectors of the economy, and given the traditional and natural affinity between women and their children, things like child labour, or trafficking in children, who feel obliged to support their parents will persist.
“ We cannot to fully achieve or talk to gender equity if we continue excluding women from such critical spheres in decision-making in agriculture, where the cooperative movement has played significant role in economic empowerment of or communities, yet expect do deal with poverty created human rights violations especially against girls such as early marriages and pregnancies, child labour and sexual exploitation” Judie adds.
Media has a big duty to dig out some of these cases studies and let people know, that even with national laws being conducive, some hidden and unspoken about practices are holding us back in this journey.
With the Constitution providing for economic, social and cultural tights for all Kenyans, it is imperative that we extend the gender debate from the civil and political sphere to other equally important shares so that we create the required critical mass for the desired social change.