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