April 2, 2024

Embracing Gender Equality for Economic Transformation

Jane Mumo

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Women and girls are among the most vulnerable groups in Kenya. They have limited representation in political leadership, they are the most affected by sexual and gender-based violence in various parts of the country and they are the most vulnerable to poverty especially in societies with patriarchal attitudes on gender roles and norms. Moreover, their restricted access to land and other resources hampers their engagement in economic activities, making them further prone to several other challenges, including inadequate education, exposure to malnutrition, and diseases. Albeit constituting almost half of the population, women still bear the burden of gender inequality.

Despite these challenges, persistent efforts are bearing fruit in pursuing gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2023, Kenya ranks 77 in its progress toward gender parity across four dimensions: economic opportunities, education, health, and political leadership. For instance, women are increasingly securing leadership roles, as evidenced by the last general election, where seven women successfully won various gubernatorial positions.

Further to this is the just-launched G7 Strategy, a caucus bringing together the seven elected women governors. The strategy aims to empower and support women leaders in demonstrating efficient, transformational and strategic governance within the devolved structures. Part of the work of the strategy is to lobby for women’s nominations in various political parties and advocate for women-empowerment initiatives in various counties.

Investing in women is crucial in accelerating progress toward gender equality and providing an opportunity to tap into their enormous potential, boosting household incomes and the national GDP.

The just celebrated International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made in enhancing the capacity of women entrepreneurs in Kenya and renew commitments towards their empowerment. This year’s theme of inspired inclusion resonates deeply with the work of the USAID Strategic Partnership Program, dedicated to empowering Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), Business Associations, and Producer Cooperatives and transforming the resilience programming of the country.

As part of its focus, the program recognizes the importance of empowering women entrepreneurs and including them as drivers of economic prosperity and social change. Through its initiatives, it provides targeted support to women MSMEs, enabling them to overcome barriers and thrive in their businesses. One of the program’s key focus areas is increasing access to finance for women entrepreneurs. By providing financial literacy training, facilitating access to credit and investment opportunities, and promoting innovative financing mechanisms, the program empowers women to unlock capital and invest in their businesses’ growth and sustainability.

To this extent, the program has facilitated training to more than three thousand two hundred and thirty-five women. In addition to financial support, the program emphasizes capacity building and skills development for women entrepreneurs. Through training workshops, mentorship programs, and networking events, women are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to succeed in competitive markets and seize new opportunities. Moreover, by working with government agencies, private sector actors, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders, the program creates synergies and amplifies its impact in empowering women entrepreneurs.

The recent celebration of International Women’s Day and other annual events that champion the rights of women and girls are critical reminders of the necessity of advocating gender equality. During the celebration of the International Day in Embu, His Excellency President William Ruto, accompanied by USAID Mission Director—East Africa and Kenya, Mr. David Gosney, visited some women-led businesses supported by the program.

Speaking during the event, the president retaliated the importance of investing in women and giving them equal opportunities to participate in economic development.

“We encourage the full participation and contribution of women in the development agenda of Kenya…We undertook to promote financial inclusion and capacity building of women. We are intentional in actualizing the two-thirds gender rule of inclusion of women in leadership.” said President Ruto.

Promoting gender inclusivity and gender equality is a step forward in empowering women and girls to break free from social norms and stereotypes that hinder their engagement in businesses and other economic activities.

Championing women’s rights in all sectors, building capacity for women-led initiatives, and including women in decision-making are steps towards ensuring that they are given an equal opportunity to contribute to their economic elevation and sustainability significantly.

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