No end in sight to gender disparity in key executive positions

Gender equality symbol. The Economic Survey Report 2023 reveals that gender parity in Kenya is still a pipe dream.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • The Economic Survey Report 2023 reveals that only the Judiciary has posted encouraging results; in all the 15 national and county executive positions featured, men are dominant.
  • The highest score for women being chief executive officers of constitutional commissions and independent offices (40 per cent), the lowest being county commissioners (10.6 per cent).

The Economic Survey Report 2023 reveals that gender parity in Kenya is still a pipe dream.

In all the 15 national and county executive positions featured, men are dominant, with the highest score for women being chief executive officers of constitutional commissions and independent offices (40 per cent) and the lowest being county commissioners (10.6 per cent).

For county executive committee members, the national average is 32.8 per cent, just below the threshold required for constitutional compliance.

The best performing counties on this are Kilifi (50 per cent) and Nairobi (45.5 per cent), while the worst are Nyamira and Kajiado, both at 14.3 per cent.

It is the Judiciary that has posted encouraging results. Here, women account for 42.9 per cent, 52.6 per cent, 52.3 per cent and 55 per cent of Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court judges and magistrates, respectively. But all the 54 kadhis are men.

In the legislature, almost one third of senators are female, at 31.3 per cent. The National Assembly lags behind at 23.2 per cent. At the county assembly level, the national average complies with the two-thirds gender rule, at 33.3 per cent.

No county elected more women than men, necessitating nomination of a significant number of the former to comply. This helps in closing the gender disparity, but creates an extra burden on the taxpayer.

But even after the nominations, the highest proportion of women was below 40 per cent, implying application of the rule merely to comply with the law. The trend suggests that if the rule were not compelled, the situation would be worse.

Keen readers will notice contradictions in tabular figures and narrations on the number of women in county assemblies. The narration names Busia as the best performing county at 35.8 per cent, yet the table shows Samburu at 37 per cent.

Gender rule compliance

Likewise, the narration claims that nine counties did not comply with the gender rule, yet a count from the table indicates 18. Technically, all these counties that did not comply are unconstitutional as constituted.

In wage employment, men dominated all sectors except human health and social work activities. The disparity was most conspicuous in industries such as mining and quarrying, electricity, gas, steam, air conditioning supply and manufacturing.

This implies that men are the majority beneficiaries of incomes, resources and advancements found in these industries, but also bear the greatest associated risks to health and safety.

Data on contraception shows that injections and implants were the most popular methods, a trend probably associated with their relative invisibility and convenience as they do not require daily intake like oral pills.

There was an increase in “the number of women undergoing Sterilisation Bilateral Tubal Ligation by 13.6 per cent, [while that of] men undergoing vasectomy more than doubled to 557 in 2022”.

This trend indicates a small but growing decisiveness on child-bearing, a fact that could be related to economic factors and changes in socio-cultural beliefs about fertility.

There was a more than 50 per cent decline in new clients opting for these permanent methods in 2021 compared to 2019, and then a spike in 2022. It would be useful to investigate what informs such fluctuations as they present unpredictability.

The report shows that the number of pregnant adolescents registered at antenatal care clinics nationally declined by 18 per cent, with those registering births also reducing from 12.3 per cent in 2021 to 11.3 per cent in 2022.

Factors behind this positive trend should be studied and replicated to slay this scourge.

Affirmative funds

Under affirmative funds, women were the majority (and logical) beneficiaries of the Women’s Enterprise Fund.

However, the fund registered significant amounts of outstanding loans, which hints at high levels of defaulting. Women were also the majority recipients of funds for orphans and vulnerable children, the hunger safety net programme and older persons.

They received the first two as representatives of households. In the last case, they were the direct beneficiaries.

The trend suggests that women are treated as the primary care providers in the typical household and that they constitute the majority of needy older persons, probably a reflection of their longer life spans.

The picture is different with regard to cash transfers to persons with severe disabilities where men outnumbered women by as much as three times, presumably an indication of the household headship traditions.

Related to these elements is membership of the National Social Security Fund, where the number of men outstripped that of women for all those registered in 2021 and 2022. This coheres with statistics that men are the majority wage employees.

The continued gender disaggregation of statistics by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics is a commendable practice that is critical for gender-responsive budgeting, planning, evaluation and scholarship.

Thus, it needs to be extended to all statistical exercises. But even as this happens, there is a need to cross-check for contradictions between figures presented in tables and related narrative descriptions.

The writer is an international gender and development consultant and scholar ([email protected]).