The highs and lows for Kenyan girls, women in 2023

Kenya's Faith Kipyegon holds her World Athletics Female Track Athlete of the Year trophy in Monaco on December 11, 2023.

Photo credit: Photo I World Athletics

What you need to know:

  • Significant achievements have made recorded, despite the challenges that continue to stalk the quest for equality.
  • Sexual and gender-based violence remains one of the biggest obstacles hampering empowerment efforts.

The year 2023 has been a roller-coaster for girls and women in Kenya. As the year comes to a close, we look back at the good and the bad that it offered.

Working group for two-thirds gender rule

In August, Gender and Cultural Heritage Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa appointed members of the Multi-Sectoral Working Group on the realisation of the two-thirds gender principle, in a Gazette notice dated August 15. The 23-member team is chaired by Principal Secretary in charge of gender with gender advocate Daisy Amdany as co-chair.

The team is currently conducting public participation on the matter before making recommendations. If implemented, Kenya will have fulfilled the wishes of the Constitution. It sought to enhance women’s representation and participation in political leadership.

The gender rule mandates the State to ensure not more than two-thirds of members of all elective and appointive positions are of the same gender.

However, 10 years after the enactment of the supreme law, there has yet to be specific legislation to operationalise this provision. The gender rule dilemma stalked the 10th, 11th and 12th parliaments, with all their four attempts failing to find a solution.

Campaign to end GBV in public transport

A national campaign aimed at ending sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the public transport sector was launched early this month.

It entails an awareness drive targeting matatu drivers, conductors and boda boda riders, to enlighten them on what constitutes SGBV and what the law says about such offences.

The campaign is a partnership between the National Gender and Equality Commission, UNFPA, the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Boda Boda Association of Kenya. This nationwide initiative is sensitising public transport stakeholders, including commuters, to the prevention and response to various forms of violence prevalent in the public transport system.

These forms include physical violence, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and other violations that affect the dignity and well-being especially of women and girls. The transport sector has emerged as a prominent hotspot for GBV. According to the 2021 Women and Public Transport in Nairobi study, 52 per cent of women reported witnessing sexual harassment while using public transport, with 27.9 per cent personally experiencing such harassment.

The government has also moved to tame the menace with the introduction of new guidelines for the sector.

Gender and Affirmative Action Principal Secretary Ann Wang’ombe recently met with stake players, among them Matatu Owners’ Association, National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), drivers, conductors and boda boda riders.

Ms Wang’ombe revealed the new guidelines would help adopt male conductors as champions in the war on sexual harassment.

Affirmative Action Fund raised to Sh3 billion

The 2023/24 budget estimates presented in Parliament in June by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u allocated Sh3 billion for the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF). The agency, which falls under the Ministry of Gender, Culture and Heritage, is under the management of the 47 women representatives.

The fund was enacted through legal notice No 24 of the Public Finance Management Act, 2012, and published on February 13, 2015. It is also governed under the National Government Affirmative Action Development Fund Regulations 2016. It is also anchored on the social pillar of Vision 2030 to address the plight of vulnerable groups through enhanced access to financial facilities for socioeconomic empowerment of women, youth, persons living with disabilities, needy children and elderly persons.

The budget statement also allocated Sh245 million for strengthening prevention of and response to GBV in the 2023-24 financial year.

SGBV courts

This year marked the launch of at least five courts across the country that are to specifically handle SGBV cases.

Such courts were opened in Siaya, Kisumu, Kibera and Makadara law courts, the latter two in Nairobi. The Judiciary has also designated SGBV registries in Meru, Nakuru, Kiambu, Machakos, Kisii, Kitale and Machakos.

Gender experts and some of the survivors are happy with the move, saying it will help in fighting the menace and help survivors have easy and faster access to justice. Women and girls disproportionately face SGBV.

Maputo Protocol

In July, the country hosted celebrations to mark 20 years since the enactment of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, commonly known as the Maputo Protocol.

Delegates from across Africa, including from the AU Human Rights Commission, attended the conference to discuss a wide range of issues that affect women’s rights in Africa.

“I am elated that Kenya is hosting an event, which is instrumental in evaluating the progress made towards women’s rights protection while taking stock of the achievements made, while also formulating strategies to address challenges that still hinder the rights and role of women in African societies,” Ms Jumwa said during the event.

The Maputo Protocol addresses discrimination by obligating states parties to take appropriate legislative, institutional and other measures in addressing gender biases. It also promotes women’s and girls’ rights to dignity by recognising their human and legal rights, and guaranteeing them rights to life, integrity, and security.

As a result of the continental treaty, many African countries, including Kenya, have espoused gender equality in their constitutions and included it in their development plans, policies, laws and programmes.

Faith Kipyegon wins World Athletics title

Double world record holder Faith Kipyegon became the first Kenyan to win the Women's World Athlete of the Year for track events after enjoying an impeccable 2023 season.

She broke the 1,500m world record in Florence on June 2, breaking Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba’s record, before breaking 5,000m world record in Paris Diamond league, barely eight days after shattering the 1,500m record.

Ms Kipyegon was also on Jamhuri Day awarded the Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart (EGH) by President William Ruto.

The EGH award is one of Kenya's highest civilian honours, and it comes with a range of privileges and entitlements. Kipyegon, 29, completed a double at the World Athletics Championships in August, a month after she shattered world records in the 1,500m, 5,000m and one mile races.

FGM thrives in some counties

While the country has made efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM), the practice persists, affecting women and girls’ health, rights and potential for self-actualisation.

A police officer was recently killed by a gang in Elgeyo Marakwet for trying to shield girls from undergoing FGM.

The gang that allegedly killed the officer was said to be protecting the circumcisers in Embobut forest. Six girls who had already been mutilated were rescued.

County Police Commander Peter Mulinge said police were on an FGM crackdown in Embolot Location, where they hotspots and rescued six girls. A mob stormed the police post that Corporal Mushote Boma manned and stoned him to death.

FGM cases have also been reported in the Kuria region, one of the hotspots in the country.

Last month, six people, among them a circumciser and five parents, were arrested after six girls underwent FGM in Kuria.

Kuria West Sub-County Police Commander Reuben Bett said the suspects were arrested in a homestead located a few metres from Mabera town. The police acted on a tip-off. Mr Bett said six girls had been circumcised by the time the police busted them.

In Kisii County, cases of medicalised FGM are on the rise, with more than 80 per cent of procedures said to be carried out by health workers, according to government data. The continued mutilation of girls comes despite heightened eradication efforts by the government, through the Anti-FGM Board.

Latest statistics from the county say a total of 106,982 girls aged 10–19 got pregnant from January 2016 to August. The county’s teenage prevalence stands at 19 per cent, exceeding the national prevalence of 15 per cent.

Bungoma’s SGBV prevalence is 23 per cent compared to national prevalence of 13 per cent.

Between January and August, a total of 299 pregnancies were recorded among adolescents aged 10–14, with 8,375 others aged 15–19 getting pregnant over the same period. Kanduyi leads with 1,218 cases, followed by Webuye West with 1,091, Tongaren (1,029), Bumula (987), Kabuchai (871), Kimilili (835), Sirisia (784), Chaptais (657), Webuye East (610) and Mt Elgon (574). In 2022, the county recorded 12,217 adolescent pregnancies.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022 also shows that Bungoma was leading in the number of women who have experienced physical and sexual violence in Kenya. The survey indicates that 62 per cent of women and girls who have experienced physical violence are from Bungoma, which also recorded the highest number of women who have experienced sexual violence (30 per cent).

From January 2016 to July 2023, the county recorded 9,089 cases of SGBV among girls aged 10–17, compared to 18,510 cases reported countrywide among the same age group over the same period.

Bungoma Deputy Governor Jennifer Mbatiany blames high poverty and incest for the high numbers. The county has come up with the Bungoma County Sexual and Gender-based Violence Bill, already in the assembly, to tame the vice.

Bizarre killings in Central

A spate of bizarre killings targeting women and girls in Central was witnessed this year. Three women were recently found brutally murdered, by unknown attackers, in their home in Maguguni village, Thika.

A neighbour said the three had gone missing, prompting a search by villagers. They broke into the house and found the bodies of a granny and her daughter lying in a pool of blood, while the badly mutilated body of the third victim was found in a shallow grave in the farm.

In Murang’a County, cases of women dying through mysterious fires have also been increasing, with at least 12 women dying in the last two years. The worst fire incident was recorded in Kandara where an elderly woman and her three daughters were torched while asleep.

On September 17, Agnes Muthoni was attacked by a man as she opened her gate in Mathegeta village, Murang’a South. He petrol-bombed her to death.

On September 28, the body of Grace Wanjiku, 84, was retrieved from her house in Kirimiga village, Mathioya. It was burnt beyond recognition in an incident detectives ruled as murder.

Kenya ranked among worst countries for women

Kenya was ranked among 30 worst countries for women to live in, trailing its East African neighbours. At position 149 out of 177, the country is behind Uganda and Tanzania that occupy positions 143 and 107 respectively.

The ranking was documented in the 2023 Women, Peace and Security report, following research conducted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

In Africa, South Africa was best ranked at no 91. Tunisia followed closely at position 96.

The study asserted that countries where women are doing well are also more peaceful, democratic, prosperous, and better prepared to adapt to the impacts of climate change.