What you need to know:
- Women are more than half of the population but make only 17 per cent of the manufacturing workforce.
- Of the 100 manufacturing companies sampled in the ICRW study, only 19 per cent indicated that female employees could rise to senior management positions.
Global studies have consistently ranked Kenya in the bottom cluster of countries making progress towards closing gender gaps in economic participation. Where are we now?
In the 2020 report, Kenya ranks 109th out of 153 countries in the attainment of gender parity and may take 257 years to close this gap. But given the investments pumped into the economy, the country ought to do better.
Kenya boasts a progressive constitution and fiscal policies, such as that on gender and development (Sessional Paper No. 2 of 2019), that provide a framework for integrating gender issues into economic growth. But have these translated into gains for women?
Women are more than half of the population but make only 17 per cent of the manufacturing workforce. Their inclusivity is hampered by a myriad factors that make their entry and stay in the industry undervalued and systematically ignored. This exclusion limits their upward mobility in the value chain.
Lack of collateral
A study by International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) shows gender norms, socio-cultural practices and constructs contribute heavily to women’s choice and ability to participate in the manufacturing sector in Kenya.
Women’s voice remains unheard due to the patriarchal nature of society, which perpetuates inequalities that limit their choices, and locks them from competitive, productive and profitable opportunities in manufacturing.
First, we live in a society where women have limited access and control over land and other resources, which are vested in male household heads. The lack of collateral constrains women’s ability to access credit and finance facilities for business capital.
The ICRW study sampled a construction manufacturer who wanted a loan to expand her business but was denied because she lacked a title deed. Innovations that move away from collateral backed lending are necessary.
Secondly, girls’ entry into industrial courses is impeded by cultural misconceptions such as “jobs that are acceptable for women” and “girls excel better in languages, social studies and not sciences’’. Skilling, upskilling and reskilling girls and women through Stem, TVET and ICT can prepare them to secure decent and dignified work in manufacturing.
Linking education and skills acquisition to sector and market demand is important but rarely practised. Initiatives for mentorship through successful women manufacturers, teachers who ignite passion for industrial courses and shop floor tours can inspire girls and women to pursue manufacturing jobs.
Thirdly, hiring of women is considered “expensive” due to their entitlement to work benefits such as leave days and maternity leave. Women thus opt out of jobs they are qualified for or settle for less due to the workplace discriminatory provisions.
Of the 100 manufacturing companies sampled in the ICRW study, only 19 per cent indicated that female employees could rise to senior management positions. This finding resonates with data from other studies by the ILO, World Bank and World Economic Forum.
Lastly, the place of women has been construed to be at home. Sadly, domestic and childcare jobs are unpaid for and their contribution overlooked.
Women often face occupational segregation and balancing the double burden of reproductive and productive roles. This affects their participation and productivity in the absence of gender transformative workplace policies and practices.
Since women are accustomed to reproductive roles, they can lead in the sub-sectors they dominate. Admirably, the study shows they are becoming the new face of manufacturing in male-dominated sub-sectors such as building and construction, plastics and rubber, and metal and allied.
There is need to turn the tide and redefine the place and contribution of women in manufacturing. We need not wait for 257 years to make gender parity a reality!