A study using a first-of-its-kind measure of women’s empowerment, the Kenya Women’s Empowerment Index (WEI), shows that only 29 percent of Kenyan women can participate equally and effectively in political, economic, and cultural life — and that their involvement is largely dependent on household circumstances.
Launched on August 10, and developed by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) in partnership with the State Department for Gender, UN Women and UNICEF, the Index provides the first comprehensive and systematic measure for women and girl’s empowerment in Kenya.
Speaking at the virtual launch of the WEI Cabinet Secretary for Public Service and Gender Prof Margaret Kobia said, “Until today, our country lacked a national tool that could be used to measure, track and evaluate progress on inclusivity and women empowerment. I am particularly happy that the complete index has been designed to not only measure progress in the multidimensional aspects of women’s empowerment but also to measure gender parity.”
Prof Kobia noted that the Index would ensure that data is collected on topics that are important for understanding gender issues in society including gender-based violence, maternal health and work-life balance. With such information, policymakers could devise programs to increase gender equality and end discrimination against women and girls.
The Index reveals that, on average, 40 percent of women living in Kenya’s urban areas are empowered, nearly double the rate for women in rural areas. Where household heads have attained secondary education, women are more than four times more empowered than in households where the head – whether male or female – has no education. This rate climbs quite drastically in households where the head has attained post-secondary education; women here are more than six times more empowered than those in households where the head has no education.
Women in Kenya’s poorest households have a very limited ability to exercise choice. According to the study, only about 7 percent of women in these households are likely to be empowered – a stark contrast with 53 percent of women in the richest households. Other socio-economic factors such as marital status also come into play with single and married women found to be much more empowered than divorcees and widows.
Based on data collected from 14,000 women aged between 15 and 49 years during the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, the Kenya Women’s Empowerment Index is strongly rooted in existing legislation and policies. The first study using the Index provides a valuable starting point for future assessments of women’s empowerment in Kenya based on access to education, paid employment, contraception, and household decision-making power, among other economic and socio-cultural factors.
“When women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys, they are formidable actors in economic development, prosperity, and social transformation. This is the case around the globe,” said Anna Mutavati, UN Women Kenya Country Director.
Now, for the first time, the world will have a clear view of the gaps Kenya will need to address to bridge gender equality and progress made compared to other countries,” Ms. Mutavati added.
Kenya has made commendable steps to increase women’s equality through policies and legislative frameworks including the Sexual Offences Act 2006, the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act 2015, Policy on Eradication of FGM 2019, and the National Policy on Gender and Development 2019. However, assessments such as The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 show that the country is still lagging in progress towards achieving gender parity, scoring lower than some of its peers in the region.
With this new tool and data now available, Kenyan legislators and other sector players will be better equipped to tailor solutions to meet national, regional, and international gender-focused commitments, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) which targets gender equality and the empowerment of all girls and women by 2030.
Targeting a more representative sample at the county level and including globally comparable variables and indicators in upcoming demographic and health surveys will be instrumental in strengthening the Index. Involving all relevant stakeholders and partners throughout the survey process will also go a long way in improving the outcomes.
Key findings of the inaugural study using the new Kenya Women’s Empowerment Index:
Less than one third of women in Kenya are empowered. Only 29% of women in Kenya are considered empowered using the Index. Women in urban areas are more empowered with 40% of women here considered empowered and only 22% in rural areas considered empowered.
Women from high-income households are more empowered than those from low-income households. Approximately 53% of women from the wealthiest segment of households measured are considered empowered, compared to about 7% of women in the poorest segment of households.
For married women and those living with a partner, less than a third are considered empowered. 27% of women in unions are considered empowered compared to 37% of single women (those who have never been married). Only 25% of divorced women, 17% of separated women and 12% of widows are empowered.