Gender equality concept | Source: UNCTAD

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed life as we knew it, but also threatened to significantly reverse gains towards attaining gender equality and accordance of equal rights and opportunities to women and girls in Kenya.

Over the years, the Kenyan government has taken measures to advance gender equality. This has ranged from free maternity and immunization programs for children to providing free sanitary towels to over 4 million school-going girls. The Constitution of Kenya provides for equal gender representation in leadership positions, requiring at least no more than two-thirds of holders of elective public bodies be from one gender. Article 27(3) of the Constitution also provides for equal treatment of either gender, including access to social, economic, political and cultural opportunities.

In spite of all this, gender equality still remains a challenge in Kenya. Women have lesser access to basic education, economic participation and political representation, and face greater health and safety risk. According to the United Nations, women and girls currently earn and save less, while holding insecure jobs.

The pandemic has adversely impacted health of women and girls, due to shifting priorities and reallocation of resources for sexual and reproductive health services. Previous health crises such as Ebola have demonstrated that in such times, resources are normally diverted from routine health services, thus reducing already limited access to these services, as well as maternal, new-born and child health services. Consequently, some women in Kenya could not access contraceptives during the pandemic, leading to unwanted pregnancies. This has also been linked to the alarming number of adolescent pregnancies since the onset of the pandemic and school closures. Statistics indicate that in 2020, 152,000 teenage girls in Kenya got pregnant during this period.

Besides access to critical healthcare services, the pandemic has also increased the burden of unpaid care work, due to heightened needs of the vulnerable and sick. Globally, women perform more than three times unpaid care work than men, according to the International Labour Organisation. The care burden on women in Kenya significantly increased with the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those bedridden at home. This reduced the time available for women to generate income from business or formal jobs.

As such, many women suffered job losses, negatively impacting their income levels. According to 2020 KNBS Economic Survey, the proportion of the population in active informal or formal employment dropped to 65.3% for men and 48.8% for women. This is in addition to significantly disrupting workflow, as a result of reduced working hours, occasioned by the curfews and social distancing measures.

Labor-force participation in Kenya, 2019 vs 2020 | Source: Development Initiatives

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly reversed the last three decades’ gains in improving access to quality education for women and girls. Globally, governments shut down learning institutions, which had to shift online. While e-learning has been effective for some, it generally remained inaccessible for many, especially women and girls from poor and developing countries.

Aggravation of sexual and gender-based violence has translated to fewer women and girls being able to access learning materials during the pandemic. Pregnant school-going girls have been forced into early marriages, apparently as a safeguard against immorality, and to put them in a ‘family’ setup.

The pandemic has also heightened the risk of women and girls to sexual harassment and gender-based violence, as a result of movement restrictions and social isolation. Violence against women is the most pervasive breach of human rights. The UN Women estimates that up to 243 million women and girls globally aged between 15 and 49 years, experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partners during the year. These effects of gender-based violence and unwanted pregnancies are likely to outlive the pandemic.

President Uhuru Kenyatta recently raised concerns over the rise of gender-based violence in Kenya and directed the National Crime and Research Center to probe it. The 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign by the WHO to call for prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls globally also emphasized ending GBV. These efforts and directives are expected to substantively impact and assure Kenyan women and girls protection from physical and sexual violence.

With COVID-19 having affected the socio-economic aspects of life, especially for women, its impact on inclusion and participation of women in civic processes will continue to be felt beyond the pandemic.

Policymakers need to adopt measures to limit scarring effects of the pandemic on women and girls. Recovery measures post COVID-19 should aim to build a more equal, inclusive and sustainable economy for both genders. Governments, NGOs and international actors need to collaborate and inculcate a gendered approach towards fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for an inclusive result, especially for women and girls.

There exist numerous advocacy campaigns promoting gender equality and fairness to allow women to have equal opportunities in getting wage and salaried jobs. Following the recently celebrated International Women’s Day, we reflect on where the East African region stands with regard to the proportion of women in wage and salaried work, and the opportunities to explore in order to bridge the gap.

Also Read: In East Africa, Women Still Lag Behind in Labor Force Participation

Wage and salaried jobs provide a stable and reliable source of income hence, in most instances, they are dependable for the economic development of individuals and households. In this section, we compare the proportion of women in wage and salaried jobs, compared to women. Similar to the Labor Force Participation Rate, women make up the minority of wage and salaried workers in the region. It is notable that almost across all the countries in East Africa, the % of males in paid employment jobs almost doubles that of females. This is illustrated in the chart below.

Data Source: World Bank/World Development Indicators

Data released by LinkedIn reveals the fact that, globally, while women stand a higher chance of being employed by up to 16% compared to men, they are 16% less likely to apply for a job they are qualified for, despite them viewing the same number of jobs as men.[1] They are also less likely to ask for a referral for a job compared to men. This one of the factors that help explain the low percentage of women in salaried work. Instability in some countries, weak economies, retrogressive cultures that are pro-patriarchy and general lack of effective and progressive policies that ensure equal representation of women in the workplace are other underlying factors that discourage or hinder women from joining the wage and salaried workforce.

Also Read: More needs to be done to empower women!

To address these disparities, there is a need for further empowerment of females to ensure that they gain access to quality education, which puts them at a better place to compete for opportunities of employment. Additionally, there is a need for corporations and the government to establish policies that ensure women receive equal working opportunities, fair pay and opportunity for career growth, as men.


With the world rallying behind the #EachforEqual campaign during the International Women’s Day, 2020, we reflect on the contribution of women in East Africa to the region’s labor market, and how to address the existing challenges that limit their participation in the region’s labor force.

Also Read: The Gender Imbalance in East Africa’s Wage and Salaried Workforce

Female Labor Force participation is crucial for the attainment of the economic development objectives of the East African region. However, it is notable that despite the population of males and females being relatively equal in the region, female participation in the labor force compared to males is relatively low as illustrated in the figure below. This points to the existence of various underlying factors that limit the accessibility and contribution of women in the region's labor force.

Data Source: World Bank/World Development Indicators

While there are many other factors that limit female participation in the region’s economy, their level of education, fertility rate and social norms and traditions are the main contextual issues that limit their participation in economic development. These factors, notwithstanding, women spend more hours in a day – up to 6 hours – on unpaid care work. If taken into account, women work up to 2.6 extra hours compared to men if the paid and unpaid work are summed.

This points to a need for the establishment of laws and policies that protect the interests of women and levels the playing field for women to get more opportunities in the labor force and for the overall pursuit of economic justice. These structural and policy reforms should aim to address the challenges females face and to maximize their economic potential. Given the importance of unpaid care, it is important for men to take up an active role in supporting women with care work.

Also Read: More needs to be done to empower women!

Such works are closely related to the wellbeing and economic output of those in the active labor force. Additionally, there is a need to factor in unpaid care work in calculating economic output measures such as GDP, given it affects other market factors like the health of the workforce, security, and stability. The private sector and the public should, also, be sensitized to recognize the importance of unpaid care work. Corporates should acknowledge the role women play in unpaid care work and adopt responsive policies and labor and time-saving technologies to improve women’s participation in the region’s labor force.

Every 8th of March, the world marks International Women’s Day. This is a day when women’s remarkable achievements are applauded. It is also an opportunity for women to champion for equality across all sectors of life.

This piece reflects on the role women play in economic, cultural and societal advancements, the challenges they still face in pursuit of economic justice and progress made so far.

History has chronicled women making significant progress across various spheres, including politics, science, and academia. For instance, Rwanda became the first country in the world to have a women-dominated parliament– 61.3% composition in the lower house.

A big shoutout to women such as Dr. Purity Ngina, who aged only 28 years, attained a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics from Strathmore University. There is also Dr. Chao Mbogo’s contribution to the technology world that has earned her global recognition, including being among the five African women who received the OSED-Elsevier Foundation 2020 Award in Engineering, Innovation, and Technology; Dr. Stella Nyanzi from Uganda is yet another great example of women from the region who are a motif of pride and inspiration for younger generations.

With women making up approximately half the population, they play a significant role in Africa’s development. They hold great potential in income-generating activities.

However, more than two decades since the women empowerment struggle gathered stream, their effective participation in the continent’s social and economic prosperity remains limited.

Women work and live in a world, culture, and system that is, unfortunately, patriarchal. Across the continent, more women than men are in informal employment compared to formal employment that is dominated by men. A recent analysis in 2015 by the Africa Development Bank of ratios of women in top positions in different African countries found that only approximately 12.7 % of women hold high-rank positions (board directors) in top companies.

Statistics show that women receive relatively lower wages compared to their male counterparts in the same fields. Payscale recorded that, for every dollar a man made in the US in 2019, a woman earned just 79 cents.
Women are unsung heroes of the African home. They are more likely to be engaged in unpaid care work or activities that yield lesser economic benefits than men. This is above responsibilities in households that are prescribed to them by African culture. The value of this work each year to the global economy is estimated to be at least $10.8 trillion – more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

Globally, a woman today will work the equivalent of four extra years in her lifetime compared to her male counterparts. This is, however, detrimental to their health as it increases physical and mental stress and reduces their productivity at work. The burden compared to the economic rewards point to disparities and unfairness against women.

In education, there continues to exist disparities between men and women that later translate to the economic sector. Women face challenges like the risk of adolescent births, early marriages and retrogressive cultural traditions (like FGM) that may affect their efforts to academic advancement. In Kenya for example, 16% of women lack basic literacy skills compared to only 9% of men according to a recent study by UNESCO. However, it is worth noting that efforts to close the gender gap in education has over the years borne many fruits. A good example is the gender parity index in secondary school enrollment in Kenya which stands at 0.95 (in 2016) up from 0.88 in 2012. This may be attributable to the government’s efforts to provide sanitary towels to girls in school to ensure that they are comfortable and can concentrate in class, as well as banishing harmful traditions like FGM and early marriages.

Another significant challenge to economic justice to women is poverty, which has always had a woman’s face attached to it. According to the 2015-16 Kenya Integrated Household and Budget Survey report, households headed by females in Kenya were more likely to be poorer than those headed by men. About 30.2% of female-headed households were poor compared to 26% of their male counterparts. Women’s economic empowerment could reduce poverty for everyone and ensure gender equality, which is one of the SDG goals.

Outside the workplace, progress towards equality and empowerment of women means viewing women as equals when it comes to ownership of property. African women have limited accessibility, ownership and control of land and natural resources. Most women are kept from inheriting property from their deceased kin, even in today’s digitally-woke generation. Implementation of these laws remains a challenge, denying women access and protection of their property. However, Rwanda and Tanzania are among the few African countries that are currently working towards securing at least 30% on land rights to their women by 2025. Additionally, women’s views and opinions should be incorporated when making decisions such as the purchase of property and other assets. Women also need to be consulted by their partners during the sale and purchase of land, and their names added to title deeds to assure their security of family assets.

Also Read: Reshaping the Health Narrative in Africa

Sexual and gender-based violence against women workers’, exploitation and abuse (in particular sex workers) remains rampant, despite efforts towards eradicating this vice. Violence against women is endemic, and most of them lack access to justice to address violations. According to the Uganda Demographic Household Survey of 2016, 13% of Ugandan women reported having experienced sexual violence. There have been positive efforts to reduce cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the region, as courts have actively taken up indicting the accused. However, women can use social media and the legal system to fight and advocate for justice and an end to GBV for their economic advancement.

For efforts to empower women to work, radical and progressive steps have to be taken by the entire society. This begins by acknowledging the patriarchal structure of society and eliminating existing structures that limit women from realizing their full potential and optimal participation in progressing society. Beyond granting women equal opportunities to men, according to their qualifications, there is a need to restructure workspaces and environments to accommodate the unique needs of women. Such things as extended paid maternity leave as those adopted by Safaricom and East African Breweries Limited, granting men adequate paternal leave to allow them to contribute to the parenting of their newly born baby by helping their partners, and period breaks or leaves, are great starting points.

Even as we mark International Women’s Day, it is important to acknowledge that there is still a lot to be done for women to fully realize their potential. Moving forward, society should work towards eliminating structures that are detrimental to the social and economic progress of women, and developing a new culture that enables them to thrive. It is only then that, on such a day, every woman in the world will have a reason to celebrate.

This article was co-authored by Clotilda Nalonja. Read Clotilda’s full bio on the ‘Meet Our Team’ Page.