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By Irũngũ Houghton

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. The thousands of women who recently marched while chanting “Stop killing us” across ten counties gives this year’s celebration more urgency than previous years. What do feminist Kenyan women want and what must government leaders do in 2024?

The 20 January protest marches were the largest mobilisations against sexual and gender-based violence in over a decade. Their EndFemicideKE petition boldly demands a presidential declaration of violence against women as a national crisis, mandatory disclosures and personal commitments from his cabinet. It urges decisive actions against state officers who make sexist comments or have histories of women abuse across the 47+1 governments and political parties. They are also calling for a new femicide law, programmes, and institutions to monitor and address violence against women.

Before women leaders fly out to attend the sixty-eighth session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York next week, they must read the World Bank “Women, Business, and the Law” 2024 report. Analysing women’s legal rights, their implementation and how these rights are realized across 190 economies, the report demonstrates global gender gaps and in Kenya, are much wider than most may think.

Globally, women still only exercise two thirds of the legal rights enjoyed to men. Women earn 70 per cent less income, spend 2.4 hours more time on unpaid care work and have less retirement benefits yet live longer than men. While over half of the world’s economies have equal pay for equal work laws, only a fifth of these countries have made pay transparency reporting mandatory provisions or enforce this. Only a handful of governments provide financial or taxation support for parents with young children.

Public and private investment in pay parity, parental rights, workplace protection and women’s safety would transform the lives of billions and increase international gross domestic product by fifty per cent, the report argues. Expanding childcare access would immediately increase women’s employment by one per cent and double their labour opportunities by 2029.

Kenya scores 83.8 per cent on the World Bank report. Women’s freedom of movement, employment laws, pay parity and equality in marriage are areas Kenya is doing well. While skewed towards urban areas, formal sector and suffers from ableist and heterosexual bias, the findings are encouraging and Kenya scores ten per cent higher than the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

The absence of safety, support for childcare, women entrepreneurs and women economic empowerment are our weakest links. 1 in 3 women are likely to experience gender-based violence. 1 in 3 men do not have access to paid paternal leave and two thirds of women still do not have access to affordable healthcare.

The World Bank study further validates the feminist movement demands. The violence we see is not just social behaviour, the consequences of not enforcing Kenyan law and inadequacy of government programming, monitoring, and advocacy.

Enforcement of existing legislation, new laws, fiscal measures, and support for parental childcare, equal property inheritance rights are desperately needed. So too, are the introduction of pension benefits that factor in childcare related absences by all parents and government funded maternity benefits.

The Kenya Kwanza election campaign probably had the most developed women’s party manifesto on paper. The nine-point women’s agenda inspired hope in many of their followers. The World Bank conclusion that there have been no major reforms in the last year is a huge indictment. With three years left, there is still time to review and recommit themselves to those 2022 election campaign ambitions.

Should they choose this path, the young, diverse and non-partisan feminist movement could be their closest ally. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s also celebrate this emerging feminist movement. It is has proved itself to be the primary driver of social and policy change for this generation. Like elsewhere in the world, it is women’s movements who have democratised workplaces, made public spaces safe, introduced laws and expanded new cultural values protecting marginalised women to build more gender equitable societies.

Happy International Women’s Day all.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]

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