The immeasurable worth of a woman

Small scale businesswoman, Faiza Ali Mohamed cooks at Jomo Kenyatta public beach in North Coast. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

On his first visit to Kenya since being elected, Barack Obama told Kenyans: “You can’t grow your economy with just half of the population.”

Obama was addressing the inequality that is steeped Kenya’s history. Because of gender inequality, women’s contribution to economic stability is often overlooked or deemed inconsequential.

Despite this, women have always been integral to the economy. A 2007 World Bank report focussing on Kenya, titled ‘Women and Economic Growth in Kenya,’ released in 2007, makes the observation that women have been making important contributions to the economy as workers, caregivers and entrepreneurs.

Female-owned MSMEs generate 40 percent of total MSME employment. Women in Kenya constitute between 65 and 75 per cent of workers in the cut flower sector with more than three-quarters of workers in the textiles sector, and about a third of the estimated workforce in tourism.

Nowhere is women’s contribution to the economy better demonstrated than in the household set-up.

The World Bank report notes that women not only make direct contributions to family finances: they also look after the welfare of their families.

The report found that, on average, women work longer hours (12.9 hours) compared with those of men (8.2 hours), yet earn less because more of these hours are not remunerated.

This has been the experience of Beverly and Victor Kiplagat: a couple living in

“When I began working, I held the opinion that a man’s job is to provide for the family: that it did not matter whether his wife earned or not,” Victor says. He has since changed his mind. “I now realise that a wife’s earnings are a life-saver.”

In 2019, Victor was without income for almost a year. His wife automatically took over the responsibilities of provision.

“If she had not been working, we would have resorted to selling all our assets and eventually moving back to the village,” he says.

It was a difficult time, Beverly recalls. “It was better having an income that could take care of immediate family needs than having none at all.”

She advises women to be proactive in supporting their households financially. She says: “I have always held a job since leaving university. I am inclined towards being useful economically. Even when I resigned from a job a few years back, I went into business.”

The Gender Sector Statistics Plan (GSSP) 2019/20–2022/23 by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and UN Women documents that, the agricultural sector contributes 70 per cent of total employment in the economy.

Data from the sector shows that women handle 80 per cent of food production. The sector accounted for 63.9 per cent of total female employment in 2018.

According to UN Women, the unemployment rate for women in Kenya (aged 15 and above) is 2.9 per cent: which is not very different from men’s 2.6 per cent.

About 77.75 per cent of women (15 years and older) have an account at a financial institution or with mobile-money-service provider; signifying probability of being involved in an economic activity.

According to a Stanbic Holdings Plc 2020 report, 82 per cent of savings in Kenya are held by women and 70 per cent of women are contributing to household budgets, even in making key decisions.

“Times have changed. Today we have households that are supported, entirely, by women: or the woman is making more economic contribution than the man. I would say that both women and men ought to be afforded equal opportunity to realise their full economic potential,” says Victor.

As alluded to, while women’s contribution to the economy cannot be denied, opportunities afforded to female folk haven’t been equal.

Multiplying value

In spite of their contribution to farming, women own just 1 per cent of agricultural land. Approximately 10 per cent of credit is available to women in Kenya.

At Brighter Monday, 33.3 per cent of those who get picked by employers, are women.

“As a company, our job is to match job description to the best person in the database. It is purely based on merit.

“However, we are launching a project soon in which the target is to have at least half of participants are women.

“The reason is that women remain very important to any country’s economy. Often, women multiply the value of money in a community,” says Emmanuel Mutuma, CEO of Brighter Monday.

A Special Report by Equileap – the leading organisation providing data and insights on gender equality in the corporate sector – across the world, looked 61 Kenyan companies listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, and scored Kenya at 26 per cent on their performance on gender equality.

According to the report, women account for 22 per cent of executive officers. Seven companies (12 per cent) have a female CEO and 12 companies (20 per cent) have a female CFO.

Sets of 6 companies had gender-balanced boards, gender balance in their executive leadership teams, and gender balance in senior management.

Women make up 43 per cent of the workforce among the companies that disclosed the information. And, women are paid 32 per cent less than men.

“Women are in every sector. We are at work. We are at home. This unequal access to opportunities, discrimination in the labour market, and business-related obstacles hinder women from contributing to their countries’ growth and well-being. Removing such obstacles will unlock Kenya’s full economic potential,” says Mary Muthoni, the chairperson of Women in Business (WIB) in Kenya.

However, she adds that even women who do not work outside the home contribute to the economy. “Even when a woman is a stay-at-home mother they are contributing economically because the work of looking after children is valuable.”