International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. Celebrated annually on 8 March, the 2014 theme for International Women’s Day is “Inspiring Change” to encourage advocacy for women's advancement everywhere in every way. It calls for challenging the status quo for women's equality and vigilance inspiring positive change. It emphasizes how gender equality, empowerment of women, women’s full enjoyment of human rights and the eradication of poverty are essential to economic and social development. It also stresses the vital role of women as agents of development.
Women's equality has made positive gains but the world is still unequal. International Women's Day celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action.
The Status of Women in Kenya
In Kenya disparities among women and men are evident in regard to education, health and legal status. The status gives a limelight on what different sectors need to focus to advocate for further action.
i. In education, Kenya is faced with many gender and regional disparities. In North Eastern Province Gross Enrolment Rate for girls is 29% compared to 112% in Western Province. In Nairobi's informal settlements only 22% of 15 to 17 year old girls were enrolled in school compared to 68% nationally and 73% in rural areas.
ii. In a country filled with cultural norms, girls in many communities are still seen as homemakers who do not deserve to go to school. Massive poverty has also crippled many families' efforts to educate their children despite introduction of free primary education. With the little resources that some families have, they prefer to send their boys to school since it is believed that they are future wealth sources to their parents than the girls, as they will go on to be breadwinners. With HIV/AIDS killing many parents, many girls are left with the responsibility of taking care of their siblings, which inevitably takes them away from the classrooms.
iii. Throughout Kenya's history, women have been subjected to consistent rights abuses while shouldering an overwhelming amount of responsibilities. A prominent example of this relates to agriculture, which creates over 80 percent of Kenya's jobs and 60 percent of income. Currently, women in Kenya do the vast majority of agricultural work and produce/market the majority of food. Yet they earn only a fraction of the income generated and own a nominal percentage of assets. Only 29 percent of those earning a formal wage throughout the country are women, leaving a huge percentage of women to work in the informal sector without any federal support. The effect is severe—nearly 40 percent of households are run solely by women and, because of a lack of fair income, nearly all these homes suffer from poverty or extreme poverty.
iv. Women are also limited from owning, acquiring, and controlling property throughout Kenya, regardless of social class, religion, or ethnic group. If women attempt to assert property rights over men or in-laws, they are often ostracized by their families and communities. This practice of disinheritance seems to be on the rise, particularly in areas hit hard by poverty.
v. One out of every eight adults in rural Kenya and almost one out of every five adults in urban areas are infected with HIV. The infection rate in girls and young women is exponentially higher than in their male counterparts. Since women are predominantly infected by their husbands, they are essentially left to die when their land, home, and assets are taken from them by their husband's family. The cultural norms described here affect the majority of women in Kenya; yet the government consistently fails to provide resources for the empowerment of women. KAIS 2012 indicate that 30% of the new infections are among young women of 15-24 years.
vi. In a report released by WHO on the Prevalence of Violence against Women in June 2013, 1 in 3 women will in their lifetime experience physical and/or sexual violence from intimate or non-intimate partner. Data has documented the inter-connectedness between different forms of gender based violence and HIV. Women who experience domestic violence by their partners have a 50 percent increased risk of contracting HIV. Violent or forced sex can directly increase the risk of transmitting HIV and particularly among young girls and boys.
Activities to Mark the Day
Women, including political, community, and business leaders, as well as leading educators, inventors, entrepreneurs, and television personalities, plan various events to mark the day. Such events may include seminars, conferences, luncheons, dinners or breakfasts. The messages given at these events often focus on various aspects that contribute to the identified theme. The topics can be on innovation to increase women’s access to and utilization of services and productive inputs, the portrayal of women in the media, or the importance of education and career opportunities. Students in schools and other educational settings participate in special lessons, debates or presentations about the importance of women in society, their influence, and issues that affect them. Workplaces make a special mention about International Women’s Day through internal newsletters or notices, or by handing out promotional material focusing on the day. Women groups can exhibit successful projects for purposes of inspiring other women. Different regions can design events that speak to the issue facing women in their area in line with the identified theme. You can participate in activities planned by others as well. Stand up and be counted on this day.