Empower women for brighter future

insulated baskets

Women making insulated baskets on August 17, 2021, in Karungaru village in Tharaka-Nithi County.

Photo credit: Alex Njeru | Nation Media Group

As we mark International Women's Day, which will be celebrated on Friday, it is an opportune time to reflect on the country's progress towards empowering our women and girls.

Women form the backbone of our society, and their economic, social and political empowerment is crucial not just for gender equality, but for the overall national development and prosperity.

When I took the reins of leadership in 2017, I made a solemn commitment to prioritise the advancement of women in Tharaka-Nithi County. I firmly believe that investing in women is not simply a matter of justice, but a smart investment generating significant returns for our entire community.

The health and well-being of our women and girls are of paramount importance to us. In Tharaka-Nithi, we are emphasising a shift from curative and rehabilitative approaches to preventive and promotive measures. This is why we pioneered the engagement of community health promoters (CHPs), an instrumental part of our journey to improve access to quality healthcare services. Our efforts have resulted in a decline in maternal mortality rates and an increase in the number of women giving birth in health facilities.

As per the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) of 2022, our county achieved a remarkable 95 per cent rate for skilled deliveries, surpassing the national target of 89 per cent. We have also elevated the proportion of women utilising family planning methods from 67 per cent to 74.7 per cent and are determined to ensure that all women in Tharaka-Nithi have access to the healthcare they need to lead healthy and productive lives.

Viable economic activities

Childcare has long been a barrier to female labour force participation. Upon giving birth, our Mama Mboga has no luxury of staying at home to tend to her newborn because each day away means revenue lost, neither can she afford to pay a nanny to cover for her as she attends to her business.

Recognising this challenge, we established the Crèche Programme, an initiative that provides mothers with a safe space to leave their children while they engage in viable economic activities free of charge. The creche is run by ECDE caregivers and has decent and comfortable facilities to care for children across all ages.

By relieving mothers of childcare burdens, the programme empowers women to participate more actively in the workforce by providing mothers with peace of mind at work, empowering young businesswomen with flexibility in their daily economic activities, facilitating a seamless transition post-maternity break and enabling more mothers to serve as breadwinners by increasing their income through continued engagement in business activities. Together with our donor partners, we intend to replicate this across all our public markets.

Addressing gender-based violence (GBV) is another key priority for my administration. I firmly believe that nobody should suffer violence because of their gender. My government has collaborated with several GBV response centres within the county that provide a safe haven for survivors, offering support services such as counselling, medical assistance and legal aid.

Beyond supporting survivors, we actively engage communities in awareness-raising campaigns that challenge harmful social norms and promote gender equality. We've also partnered with local organisations to implement community-based interventions aimed at preventing GBV and promoting bystander intervention. The county government collaborates closely with law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary to ensure that perpetrators of GBV are held accountable for their actions.

Limited opportunities

On this women’s day, I would like to give a standing ovation to all the women in leadership positions not just in Tharaka-Nithi, but across the country. The level and quality of service we aspire to, especially within our counties, cannot be achieved without the full participation of women in leadership and decision-making.

Today, women hold key positions in our county government, and we are making progress towards achieving gender parity in representation across all levels of leadership. We recognise that there is still much work to be done. Challenges such as harmful cultural practices, lack of access to resources and limited opportunities in the formal sector continue to hinder women's progress.

However, we are unwavering in our commitment to overcoming these obstacles. We will continue to invest in programmes and policies that empower women and break down the systemic barriers that hold them back. We are determined to create a county where women have equal opportunities to thrive and contribute to the development of our society.

As we look to the future, I am optimistic that Tharaka-Nithi County can become a model for women's empowerment not only in Kenya, but across Africa.

By working together, we can build a more inclusive, just, and prosperous society where all women and girls have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Let us seize this moment to renew our pledge to create a world where women truly have the power to shape their destinies.

Mr Njuki is the Governor of Tharaka Nithi County.