AFIDEP, partners laud efforts by government on reducing gender gaps, but say more needs to be done

By Adelyn Wangusi

Kenya has made some progress in closing the gender gap, moving from a gender gap index of 69.2% in 2021 to 72.9% in 2022, according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report of 2022. The recently released Kenya Health and Demographic Survey showed improvements in gender equality indicators, including a reduction in teenage pregnancy from 18% in 2014 to 15% in 2022.

Even with this progress, experts and government agree that more needs to be done. Speaking during the World Population Day event marked in Nairobi, Dr Rose Oronje, Head of Kenya Country Office of the African Institute of Development Policy (AFIDEP) noted the need for efforts to reduce gender inequality and inequity to prioritise structural issues that have continued to undermine girls and women’s progress.

“Macro-economic policy continues to be seen as gender neutral, and yet this policy affects women and mean differently,” she said. “This is because women have fewer economic opportunities and earn much less than men. We also know that women carry the burden of care in our economy, and they form the majority of those in the informal economy,” she added. All these point to the need for macroeconomic policy to be reformed in order to drive gender equality.

Dr Oronje said that looking at the broader structural issues will enable Kenya and other governments in Africa to address many gender disparities because the different structural issues are crosscutting and they interact to produce poor health, educational, and other social outcomes for many women and girls.

Focusing on the persisting high levels of teenage pregnancy in Kenya, Dr Oronje said that besides raising the age when girls get married, delaying girls in school will also lower incidences of teenage pregnancy and provide the opportunity for women to develop themselves.

For example, she said, the unmet need for family planning stands at 14% and teenage pregnancy among girls without educations increased from 34% to about 38% between 2014 and 2022, yet it decreased among girls with primary (24% to 20%) and secondary plus education (7% to 5%).

Leading in teenage pregnancy is the semi arid county of Turkana County which has a teenage pregnancy rate of 50% compared to 8.4% in Nairobi. The percentage of women age 15–24 who had sexual intercourse before age 15 decreases with increase in the level of education from 19% among those with no education to 2% among those with more than secondary education.

According to the latest demographic health survey, women with more than one sexual partners are less likely to practice safe sex than their male counterpart putting them at increased risk of HIV.

Four percent of women age 15–24 had more than two sexual partners in the last 12 months, and among these, 36% reported using a condom during their last sexual intercourse.

Twelve percent of men age 15–24 had two or more sexual partners in the last 12 months. Of these, 64% reported using a condom during their last sexual intercourse.

According to Dr Oronje, while Kenya ranked 57 out of 146 globally at 72.9% gender gap index in 2022 up from 69.2% in 2021 and becoming the third most improved country after Vanuatu and Saudi Arabia, 15 per cent of her girls aged between 15-24 still get pregnant, 25% of women get married by age 18 and 24% of women give birth by 18.

“These indicators continue to speak negatively on the drive for gender equality and undermining progress in all other sectors,” she said.

Dr Oronje noted that progress in closing the gender gap has stalled globally and cites a report by the WEF Global Gender Gap Report of 2022 which notes that it will take 132 years to close the gender gap.

A recent UNDP report (UNDP Gender Social Norms Index published on June 12, 2023). Gender biases remain entrenched. The report notes that social norms that perpetuate gender inequalities remain unchanged for the last 10 years.

The report noted that 1 in 4 people globally still believe that it’s justified for a man to beat his wife and that more than 40% still believe that men make better business executives than women with half of the people in the world believing that men make better political leaders than women.

So far, World Economic Forum data shows a widening gap. Female share of ministerial level positions – 30% and those in positions at local government level stands at 36 per cent.

On economic front, Women earn 32% less than men and female share of employment in senior and middle management positions – only half of women (50%)

The UNFPA chose “Unleashing the power of gender equality: Uplifting the voices of women and girls to unlock our world’s infinite possibilities” as the theme of World Population Day 2023.  

Natasha Wangui, a student at the Zetech University said besides the cultural norms that girls have been facing, there is rising cases of abuses meted against girls by their families due to the negative impacts of climate change. “Girls have been removed from school and married off by parents who view girls as an alternative form of livelihood as crops and livestock fail due to floods or droughts,” she said.

Dr Bernard Onyango, the USAID-funded BUILD Project PED Director and Senior Research and Policy Analyst agreed with the sentiments by Ms Wangui and added that sectors cognisant to demographic dividend such as education, health, environment, governance and employment seem to have little understanding of the interconnection, “let alone the design of processes and tools for integrating, population issues into their policies, plans”, he said. He added that as much as the country desires the wellbeing of its citizens, nothing much can be achieved as long as the system thinking has not been bought by the policy makers.

According to Onyango, taking advantage of emerging opportunities including the demographic dividend demands that the government need to focus on strategic investments in order to slow down rapid population growth.