Despite considerable progress in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment over the past five decades, Kenya continues to face challenges in addressing broader measures of gender parity such as economic security and individual autonomy.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 ranks Kenya at position 109 out of 153 countries around the world that have been rated on progress towards achieving gender parity. Within the region, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia still lead in closing the gender gap.
While sustained efforts by the Government of Kenya and other actors have resulted in sharp decline in the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early/child marriage, and other harmful practices, more needs to be done if the country is to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5, which seeks gender equality and the empowerment of all girls and women by 2030.
This is especially significant given that women make up 50.5 per cent of the country’s population, according to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census.
It is towards this end that the government has designed and developed the inaugural Kenya Women Empowerment Index (WEI) in partnership with UN Women and Unicef.
The new tool represents a major milestone for evidence-based policymaking and resource allocation in Kenya. It is designed to help policymakers and sector actors measure and monitor progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Launched on August 10, 2020, the WEI draws on the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) and measures progress across multiple domains of women’s empowerment, including: economic, human and social, household and sexual/reproductive decision-making, and attitudes towards socio-cultural norms and phenomena.
The Index is aligned to, and is a product of national legislation and policies. It provides a credible and contextualised statistical approach to quantify our efforts in measuring women's empowerment in Kenya.
The revelatory Index, which is based on KDHS data, shows that only 29 per cent of Kenyan women are empowered.
In addition, women in urban areas are nearly twice as likely to be empowered compared to women in rural areas, with incidence rates of 40 and 22 per cent respectively.
Empowerment is also associated with household wealth and level of education. While only six per cent of women belonging to the poorest wealth quintile are empowered, in the richest wealth quintile, the rate reaches 53 per cent.
At the same time, 22 per cent of women are empowered in households headed by someone with at least primary education compared to 10 per cent of women in households where the head has no education.
Other socio-economic characteristics are also relevant. Single women and married women are more likely to be empowered, while the opposite is true for widowed women, only 12 per cent of whom are empowered.
Factors like marriage, living with a partner and having multiple children are also found to be associated with lower levels of women’s empowerment.
While numerous endeavours have previously applied socio-cultural, economic and even interpersonal or familial indicators to measure progress in the sector, the WEI fills a critical knowledge gap by quantifying and standardizing levels of empowerment in a comprehensive statistical measurement capturing the complex phenomenon that is women’s empowerment.
By doing so, the index helps facilitate advocacy towards better policies and increased financing to accelerate gender equality and women’s empowerment.
In contrast to earlier and dispersed initiatives, inaugural findings from the new study based on the WEI, provide new and standardised insights on the level of empowerment across a range of indicators.
These include access to paid employment, land ownership, educational attainment, knowledge about modern contraception and decision-making power at the household level.
Based on KDHS empirical data collected from a sample of more than 14,000 women aged between 15 and 49, the WEI provides an assessment for women who are married or in a long-term committed relationship, and women who are single, widowed, divorced or separated.
This disaggregation provides an accurate lens for assessment as the empowerment indicators for each category are different.
Specifically, in the economic category, a woman is considered empowered in paid employment if she is employed and paid throughout the year, while women in seasonal or occasional employment or those who are not paid are considered disempowered.
In addition, in the human and social resources category, a woman is considered empowered in the indicator of educational attainment if she has completed secondary or higher education.
In the human and interpersonal category, a woman is considered empowered if she has no unmet family planning needs, such as birth spacing, number of children, access to contraception, and awareness of HIV prevention, and disempowered if these needs go unmet. Overall, a woman is considered empowered if she meets at least 80 per cent of all the above-mentioned indicators.
With a credible and locally applicable measurement tool now in hand, efforts must be put in motion to ensure that the approximate 71 per cent of women considered disempowered on the national level are put securely on the road to empowerment. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are a moral imperative and fundamental human right.
Systematically measuring women’s empowerment using the Kenya WEI is vital to ensuring all women in Kenya reach their full potential.
Prof. Margaret Kobia is Cabinet Secretary for Public Service and Gender
Anna Mutavat is the UN Women Kenya Representative