While women in Kenya take care of the majority of the agricultural and produce market work, they only earn a fraction of the income their male counterparts do. As an outcome of wage discrimination for women, 40 percent of households in Kenya that are run solely by women are in poverty.

Women’s reliance on men has greatly increased within the past few years, due to state and resource conflicts during wartime. For instance, even though Kenya suffers droughts throughout the year, women are afraid to travel to collect water for their families due to gender-based violence. As a result, young girls cannot gain an adequate education due to the deficiency of proper hygiene and clean water within the school, resulting in low literacy rates. In addition, pregnant adult females who do not have access to clean water are more likely to acquire a water-borne disease, harming both the mother and unborn child.

Women in Kenya are not only restricted in the private realm, but also face restrictions in the public realm. For example, women cannot gain any property or land regardless of their social rank. In fact, after their husband’s death, several widows lost their homes and families because of these harsh gender-based rules. If a woman tries to acquire any property or land for her family, she will be exiled from the household, or even worse, from the community.

Kenyan cultural practices also influence the threat of HIV and AIDS that plague the country. Further, in addition to the medical threats of this disease, it also lowers  women’s self-esteem. Forced sex and inheritance of a widow by male relatives is part of Kenyan culture, yet 1 in 5 adults have HIV, a rate even higher for women.

Besides the negative effects of some cultural practices, women also have a higher rate of experiencing gender inequality, discrimination, gender-based violence and rape. In particular, practices such as gang rapes or forced sexual mutilations continue to be a major issue in communities across the country. Unfortunately, even when these women file rape complaints, police often do not prosecute their perpetrators. Thus, there is no support for victims and survivors of violence.

While there have been reforms to the Kenyan constitution within the past year, such as more rights for female business owners to help grow the economy, they constantly fight to keep their business afloat to support their families. The laws may vary, yet the traditional codes are nevertheless in effect within some communities and villages.

Kenya needs to improve its legal assistance and medical care for women, while ensuring all women receive the highest degree of protection and representation. In addition, girls must have better access to education to improve literacy rates. Even though women voters make up the bulk of the voting population in Kenya, they continue to be seriously underrepresented in politics, making it difficult to achieve these tangible goals. Overall, if women are more included in Kenya’s economy, the country can progress from severe poverty. By bringing women and young girls out of poverty and providing basic political and socio-economic rights, the country can and will grow for the better.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: The Water Project, Foundation for Sustainable Development
Photo: Buzz Kenya

There are many women in Iraq who have faced and continue to face abuse within the Iraqi judiciary system, as outlined in a new report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to the HRW, although both men and women suffer from the severe flaws of the criminal justice system, women suffer a double burden due to their second-class status in Iraqi society.

Iraq has had other allegations challenging its reputation for gender discrimination in the past. During the 1970s, Iraq guaranteed equal rights to women before the law by mandating compulsory education through primary school for both genders and changed labor, employment, and personal laws to grant women greater equality in the workplace, marriage, divorce and inheritance. These advancements were done, however, in order to create loyalty to the ruling government and Baath Party.

After losing the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein tried to boost his power and popularity by embracing Islamic and tribal traditions. This led to the rapid deterioration in social status for women in Iraq, which has only worsened since the Iraq War.

Although there has been some debate in the international community as to the legitimate use of interrogation tactics like water-boarding, the abuses these women sustained seem to have amounted to torture. Nearly all of the women in Iraq that were interviewed by the HRW were handcuffed, kicked, punched, beaten with cables, subjected to electric shocks, and subjected to falaqa, which is the practice of tying someone upside down and beating their feet.

Many also reported being raped and sexually assaulted by security officials who also threatened to do the same to their daughters. After succumbing to torture, these women were forced to sign and fingerprint confessions they could not read, or in some cases, that were just blank pieces of paper.

Although prohibited by both Iraqi and international law, corruption and a lack of government oversight ensures that these abuses continue with no repercussions for the abusers and no relief for the victims. By detaining women without arrest warrants, holding them for indefinite periods before allowing them to see a judge and demanding bribes for their release, the actions of the government are synonymous to kidnapping.

The current situation is also influenced by religious strife, as the vast majority of these women and girls are Sunni and being illegally detained by the Shia-led government solely because of their branch of Islam. The majority of the women interviewed were held for allegedly covering up for crimes committed by male family members, and charged under Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law. Many were convicted not by evidence, but based on coerced confessions and testimony from “secret informants.”

The response from Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s administration has been criminally insufficient. They have yet to begin investigating allegations of abuse, and many government officials have denied that there is a problem, with some even accusing the women of lying. To move past the legacy of corruption left by Saddam Hussein, a greater sense of transparency of and accountability for government procedures could greatly improve the situation.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Al Jazeera
Photo: Aljazeera