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Why women never got pension and house allowance

Health worker Grace Ogot (left) training mothers on maternal child care in Kisumu in June 1963. [File, Standard]

The absurdities of our times! Although the country is still struggling to achieve gender parity more than a decade after the entrenchment of this right in the Constitution, Kenyan women have faced worse treatment in the past.

This discrimination was cemented during the enactment of the Registration of Persons Act in 1949 which disregarded the existence of women, setting the stage for systemic discrimination.  

When the government set out to reform the civil service in 1971, the commission given the task found that women could not be registered by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), meaning they could not save for their retirement.

“Although it was the intention of NSSF to accept contributions from male and female employers, the latter were initially excluded from contributing due to a legal technicality.”

NSSF was set in such a manner that the contributor's personal account number was based on a conversion of his ID card number, and employers were required to quote this number before an account could be opened.

This worked against women as the Registration of Persons Act 1949 (Cap. 101 s.2, spoke of male employees only. 

One of Kenya’s foremost female scholars Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai experienced this discrimination in January 1966 when she flew back to the country armed with a master’s degree ready to take up her position at the University of Nairobi.

When she reported to the Zoology Department on January 10, 1966, armed with a handwritten appointment letter on the university's letterhead, she was informed that her position had been given to a man. She later learnt that she had been sacrificed because of her gender.

Maathai suffered worse discrimination when she was ultimately employed in the same college but was denied some benefits given to her male counterparts.

At the time, as Maathai explains in her autobiography Unbowed: A memoir: “At the time, only single women or widows could get university housing. Married women were expected to be housed by their husbands. It was argued, therefore, that they did not need housing allowance or insurance coverage or pension."

Finding it unfathomable, Mathaai confronted the university. The university told her, "Your husband is getting those services from his place of work and he should have you benefit from that."

This warped thinking birthed a fierce human rights defender whose fight reverberated in all corners of the world