On International Women’s Day (IWD), we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. As we mark IWD 2019, we toast to women’s achievements – at home, at work and in our communities, as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, workers, citizens and leaders. The theme of this year is #BalanceforBetter. A balanced world is indeed a better world. Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive. In fact, gender balanced communities and institutions are more prosperous.
Kenya has made commendable strides in women’sempowerment. For example, our country has the highest number of women serving on company boards in Africa at 19.8 per cent, above the global average of 15 per cent, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation. Twenty six percent of the Cabinet is made up of women.
These achievements are admirable, yet with room for improvement. Progress has been painstakingly slow and is a sign of resilience and strong - will in our society which is laced with unacceptable inequalities in health, education, leadership and at the work place. More than half of Kenya’s population is female. Investing in the well-being of women, then, is investing in the good of more than half of the population. It’s no brainer then, that nations must invest in women to make sustainable progress.
Key to investing in women is, investing in their health. Womenbear the brunt of dysfunctional healthcare systems. More women than men in Kenya are victims of gender based violence. Gender-based prejudices, violence, discrimination and inequalities not only violate rights of women but also impact their health and wellbeing. Women are caregivers and almost all the time take care of the sick and bear the emotional burden of providing care in inefficient and challenging healthcare environments.
According to WHO, gender requires us to ensure health policy, programmes, services and delivery models are responsive to the needs of women, men, girls and boys in all their diversity.
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Like many women in sub-Saharan Africa, women in Kenya are disproportionately affected by diseases such as HIV. Worth noting is that gender-based violence and HIV are strongly entangled. In 2016, 34,000 adult women were infected with HIV, compared to 22,000 adult men, and adult women accounted for 910,000 of the 1.6 million people living with HIV in the country. Women also face challenges with sexual and reproductive healthcare, such as limited access to family planning, as well as stigma and discrimination.
As health advocates in Kenya, we commend President Uhuru Kenyatta for rolling out Universal Healthcare Coverage a component of health - one of the Big 4 agenda. We are grateful too, for the linda mama maternity package. These investments in health when fully rolled out will ensure that all Kenyans have access to quality healthcare without getting into financial hardships and sinking into poverty when they pay for healthcare services. This then requires the provision of adequate resources for health. We are asking the Government to allocate more funds for health – at least 5 per cent of GDP.
Further, forming partnerships with the private sector, and urging donors to contribute to international health funding initiatives such as the Global Fund whose 6th replenishment is scheduled for October 2019 will provide the much needed resources for investments in health for womenand indeed, for all Kenyans.
Increasing investments in health is good for the economy. It will enable Kenya realise the social pillar of Vision 2030 which aims to improve quality of life for all Kenyans through the roll out of human and social welfare projects and programmes in key sectors such as health. Further, the investments will enhance the roadmap to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3 on health and wellbeing as well as Goal 5 on gender equality.
As we celebrate women’s achievements, each one of us is called to action. Especially to resist traditional ideas about the roles of girls and women which are detrimental to their health and restrict their contributions to society. We must take personal responsibility to accelerate gender balance by being sensitive to inequalities, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality. It starts with you and me.
- The writer is the Executive Director of WACI Health