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Power in numbers
– by Jedida Oneko
Women do 70 % of agricultural work in Kenya
Generally speaking, African data collection lacks accuracy and reliability. Government data is often considered corrupt and distorted, and in some places, civil wars make it impossible to compile accurate national statistics. Apart from authorities, however, non-governmental and community-based organisations also gather data, which helps to secure funding. International aid agencies have data too, but while they may be more strict about methodology, they are not always in touch with the cultural and political context at the grassroots level.
Statistics dealing with gender issues are hard to locate or depend on. They are necessary, however, to raise awareness of sexualised crimes and women’s contributions to the economy.
The Kenyan section of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA, Kenya – the Spanish acronym stands for Federacion Internacional de Abogadas) a watchdog organisation, carries out detailed research on conviction rates, evidence and burden of proof. They report on their findings in an effort to liberate Kenyan women. “Statistics inform our interventions,” Jane Serwanga, senior legal counsel at FIDA Kenya, points out.
FIDA also provides shadow reporting to ascertain that the Kenyan government complies with the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The organisation highlights women’s economic achievements. The goal is transformative change in policy, Serwanga explains, even though it is difficult to work within Kenya’s patriarchal system.
FIDA statistics tell interesting stories. Due to HIV/AIDS, women today head one third of Kenya’s households. Women make up 80 % of the agricultural workforce and they do 70 % of the work in the production of cash crops. However, they only get 60 % of agricultural income. Women are not allowed to own livestock, yet they perform 50 to 90 % of the labour in livestock rearing.
All too often, women are considered lesser than men. FIDA has counted 75 confusing and antiquated land laws built on the patriarchal model. The consequence is that women only have minimal, if any, right to own land, and it can be easily lost in cases of a husband’s death, divorce or separation. FIDA reports that “only five per cent of land in Kenya is registered by men jointly with women and only one per cent by women alone.”
Such statistics from FIDA have helped to bring about change. For example, if the current draft constitution is approved in the referendum in June, women will enjoy equal property rights with their male counterparts.
Despite such headway, FIDA documents also report lingering problems. Though the Kenyan government did acknowledge women’s domestic contribution in its 2006 report to CEDAW, “judges have held that only direct financial contribution will be accepted as an indicator of established property interest, excluding the valuable labour that the wife puts forth in the home”, FIDA points out.
Similarly, women have little say in Kenya’s government. Women make up a mere 7.1 % of the members of parliament. In comparison, Rwanda boasts a much higher share: 56 %. After the elections in 2008, The Washington Post praised Rwanda’s parliament for being “the first in the world where women claim the majority”.
There is a dark side to this success, however: It is a consequence of the 1994 genocide. Women in Rwanda now outnumber men by far. In 1995, 70 % of the country’s people were estimated to be female.
Similarly, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the first woman president in Africa, but her achievement is painted against a bleak backdrop of Liberia’s civil war. It almost seems as if civil war is a prerequisite for higher female representation in Africa.
In Kenya, political parties falsely claimed 30 % female representation after the 2007 elections, which led to gruesome riots. But women’s rights activists say that female representation is meaningless anyway. According to the Women’s Shadow Parliament (WSP), “it has not translated into significant increases in women’s presence in party nominations, especially the main political parties”. Only 10.6 % (269 of 2,548) of the contestants during the elections were women. In general, women are relegated to junior capacities such as secretaries and messengers.
The WSP conducted a survey in the hope of determining actual female representation and roles after the disputed 2007 presidential elections. In a climate of hostility and – later – violence, the WSP researchers were viewed as opponents’ spies. The research depended mainly on information from questionnaires, which was limited and considered inaccurate. No official party records were provided.
The Sexual Offences Act
During the election campaign and during the riots afterwards, another age-old problem became evident once again: gender-based violence. Female political aspirants reported beatings and threats of physical and sexualised violence. Women and their children comprised the majority of displaced people. There was also an upsurge of reported
cases of sexualised assault.
In 2006, the Sexual Offences Act was passed in Kenya, thanks to data provided by the Nairobi Women’s Hospital’s Gender Violence Recovery Centre (NWH-GVRC) and Njoki Ndungu, a lawyer who was a member of parliament at the time. Though the problem of rape has not ceased, the bill created consequences like minimum sentences for sexual offenders. According to the Sexual Offences Act of Kenya website, “every 30 minutes, a woman is raped in Kenya”.
Without statistics provided by NWH-GVRC, the new law would not have been passed. Findings show that 49 % of Kenyan women have experienced violence in their lifetime; 83 % of women and children were physically abused in childhood; 46 % experienced sexual violence in childhood; 60 % did not report the abuse; and only 12 % reported to the local administration.
According to Lilian Kasina, the monitoring and evaluation officer of NWH-GVRC, there were approximately 635 reported cases of rape in the three months of post-election violence. However, Kasina says the actual figure was probably much higher, as there is “no harmonised national database on gender-based violence” and many cases went unreported. Kasina says the increase in reported cases is not only due to the continued awareness and education work done by GVRC centres, but also to the general increase of crime rates. Between 2001 and 2005 there were a total of 3,125 cases reported at GVRC, whereas in 2008 alone the number was 2,805.
Kasina hopes the National Commission on Gender, formed after the post-election violence, will have a national reach and provide accurate data on gender-based violence. Unfortunately, such commissions are often set up by African governments more to appease the people and the international community rather than to produce accurate data or even lasting change. But without the necessary statistics as support, the case for women’s rights in Kenya will remain bleak.