The gender wage gap refers to the “difference between average gross hourly earnings of male-paid employees and female-paid employees as a percentage of average gross hourly earnings of male-paid employees.” It exists because some men and women receive a different amount of money for work of comparable value. This wage gap is both the “cause and consequence” of gender inequality. There are many reasons for the gender wage gap in Kenya, and although they exist in other nations around the world, it is more acute in developing countries. The East African nation is more gender unequal than its counterparts in the developed world, meaning that most women are employed in lower-paid work where they work for longer hours. This is before they have to go home and complete the rest of their daily domestic and childcare responsibilities.
The Kenyan Context
Over the last three decades, efforts have occurred to close the gender wage gap in Kenya, representing a struggle within the East African nation. In 1993, the government Task Force for the Review of Laws Relating to Women originated to help foster women’s equal participation in society and economic empowerment. In 2007, the government enacted the Employment Act, which promised all employees fundamental rights, basic working conditions and pay.
Nevertheless, this legislation has not been fruitful in achieving pay parity for women. In 2019, Equileap published a report on gender equality in Kenya, finding that on average, women earn 32% less than their male counterparts, compared to 23% globally. This disproportion means that the country sits at the 20th position on the Global Gender Gap Index of 2020, behind the other East African nations of Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Compared to the rest of the world, Kenya ranks 109 out of 153 countries, a 33-position drop compared to 2018.
The informal economy in Kenya is a significant employer for women, with 87% being employed within it. Despite this importance, the sector lacks standard employment contracts, social protection and adequate pay, meaning that women are unable to obtain a decent livelihood, let alone have the same level of income as men.
Reasons Why the Gender Wage Gap Persists in Kenya
Here are the three main reasons why the gender wage gap is prevalent in Kenya.
- The Inability of Women to Effectively Negotiate Their Pay. Women tend to misunderstand or underestimate their own value, compared to men. This means that even if they are successful in the pay negotiation process, they often shy away, being happy with less than what men have satisfaction with.
- Gender Insensitivity Persists in Workplaces. Like the rest of the world, organizations and businesses in Kenya operate in a structured way. As a result, women often join at the bottom of the scale, while men join at the middle or top end. Women also experience disadvantages due to child-rearing responsibilities, pregnancy and maternity leave, all of which can set them back on the career ladder.
- The Presence of Bias in Workplaces. Small and medium-sized enterprises provide formal employment for a large proportion of the Kenyan population. Regardless, less than 5% of these companies have female chairs. Furthermore, in the 1980s, women did not receive benefits as authorities assumed that their husbands would provide their insurance and allowance, a view that many still accept today.
The U.N. estimates that closing the gender wage gap in the East African nation is an essential way to achieving gender-related SDG commitments.” Many organizations have grasped this reality to tackle this issue. They include:
In 2010, the Kenyan government passed a new constitution which was the first in its history to recognize gender equality. Key statements as part of this included:
- Every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law.
- Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and fundamental freedoms.
- Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.
Womankind Worldwide started working in Kenya after the promises created in this constitution remained unmet; women are still unable to make key decisions that impact their lives and communities. The organization has vowed to support women’s rights activists in the country so that the barriers that women and girls are facing can reduce.
In reference to the gender wage gap in Kenya, Womankind Worldwide has urged ‘gender responsive’ action for businesses. This includes reviewing existing activities (such as pay and promotion) that undergird institutionalized forms of gender inequalities.
Kenya Female Advisory Organisation (KEFEADO)
In 1994, Dolphine Okech and her daughter Dr. Jane Okech, both of whom were educationalists that committed themselves to gender equality, founded KEFEADO in Kisumu, Kenya. The NGO exists to “promote gender equity, equal opportunities and rights for all” so that it can change cultural attitudes towards issues such as sexual abuse, gender-based violence and employment equality. It is working to develop gender rights policies that bridge pay inequality gaps along with ensuring that institutions respond to the specific needs of special interest groups, namely women and youth. It is also aiming to end disparities in education, health and work.
Regarding the gender wage gap in Kenya, KEFEADO has advocated for gender-responsive budgeting (GRB). In 2020, the organization organized a three-day training for members of the Kisumu county assembly as a way of advocating and fighting for employment equality between men and women. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the event. Overall, the training was a success as this budgeting was fast-tracked.
National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC)
In 2011, the National Gender and Equality and Commission Act established the NGEC, following Article 249 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. As a Constitutional Commission, the NGEC focuses on promoting constitutionalism, democratic values and principles, and protecting the sovereignty of the people, especially in relation to the marginalized. This includes women, youth, children, minorities and older members of society.
According to this mandate, the NGEC has successfully mainstreamed issues of gender and women in national and county policies, laws and administrative rules. Gender mainstreaming is a core function of this, and they use it to ensure that the concerns that both men and women experience are frontal in all spheres such as economic, political and societal. One way that it has achieved this is through raising awareness. As per the 2019-2024 Strategic Plan for Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination, the organization proposes that educating and partnering up with the public is a good way to raise consciousness on such issues (including the gender wage gap).
Over these last few decades, the gender wage gap in Kenya has appeared to have worsened. Although this is true to an extent, there is now much more awareness and understanding of the issue. Furthermore, the ascent of organizations fighting for pay parity in Kenya presents an optimistic future, one where pay is gender equality and women are obtaining the same financial remuneration as their male counterparts.
– Harkiran Bharij