“For our journey is not complete until our wives,our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”BARACK OBAMA
Women in Kenya are 50% of the population, this demographic percentage is reflective of many emerging and developing markets.Yet even with these numbers that equal men,women still continue to lack representation in critical decision making roles as well as in economic activities.In most emerging and developing markets a larger proportion of women are involved in economic activities in the informal sector.Take my country Kenya for example,in a 2016 study by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics,there were 880,000 women in formal employment compared to 1.68 million men.Kenya’s population growth which has grown by about 1 million each year was estimated to be about 46.5 million, going by previous trends we can estimate about 30% of the population was female and between the age of 24-65 and was involved in an aspect of economic activity.This translates to about 13 million women with a paltry 880,000 in formal employment ,leaving 12.2 million of them in the informal sector .A similar 2017 KNBS study reveals that “women provide 80 percent of Kenya’s farm labor and manage 40 percent of the country’s smallholder farms, yet they own only roughly 1 percent of agricultural land and receive just 10 percent of available credit.”1
Women were found to be under represented at legislative,administration and judicial levels.For a country poised at becoming one of the key players in the economic revival of the African continent and that has been hailed as having one of the most progressive constitutions ,women still find themselves getting the short end of the stick.Devolution has brought governance closer to the people and economic growth which has been at 5.7% in the last five years, has placed Kenya as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.Still women continue to be disadvantaged and left out of economic activities and key decision making processes.On 27th February 2019 there was a quorum hitch that prevented the passing of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2018 also referred to as the Gender Bill.It sought to legislate the 2010 Kenyan Constitution requirement that no gender should hold more than two-third of elective posts.It comes as no surprise that there are more men than women holding elective posts in Kenya and out of the 1,883 elected seats in the 2017 election,women hold just 172 seats a mere 23%.
The State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same genderCONSTITUTION OF KENYA 2010,ARTICLE 27(8)
This exclusion of women is to be found in the informal sector as the traditional roles assigned to them restrict them to roles outside key economic and governance roles.With lack of a state funded child care services,women in Kenya rely on the services of hired help and some who cannot afford hired help find themselves giving up pursuit of further education or careers to be the primary caregivers to their children in their formative years.Most hiring managers do not look favourably on career gaps and these women find themselves shunted to the informal sector as they try to set up and run businesses with no financial assistance or business skills.These businesses may or may not do well,yet these exist a great opportunity for emerging market economy policy makers to develop programmes that would harness the potential of their female citizens to enable them become business owners,employers and employees as well as consumers.
This failure to tap the potential of women is prevalent in emerging markets and has gained global attention.On the 25th of September 2015,Heads of State and Government at a special UN summit adopted the Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” .Included in the 17 Sustainable Economic Goals (SDG’s) were 2 whose inclusion would help empower women in the economy and close the gender gap.
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girlsGOAL 5
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for allGOAL 8
When women in emerging market economies like Kenya are supported to reach their full potential by taking part in economic activities through business ownership and policies that support more of them to return to work a country benefits by having stronger families,communities and better social cohesion.No economy will make much progress if it continues ignoring the potential of half of its population.Women just like men are consumers,potential employees and entrepreneurs and their contribution to the growth of the emerging market economies is important.
How to make it happen.
1.More women in leadership
Through promoting more representation of women in leadership positions,companies and governments increase the diversity of perspectives and increase their odds of making better decisions.Women need to be part of the voices being heard both in government and in the private sector,they come with different views and perspectives from their experiences as women and add to the rich basket of ideas needed to make decisions that affect not just the general population but women and girls in particular.
By making their voices heard, we allow key decision makers to make use of their input and craft and more effective better policies.
The promotion of more women to leadership position also offers them the opportunity to be mentors for their peers as well as for the next generation of women leaders.This creation of networks of women in leadership positions also allows for exchange of ideas ,guidance and support to fellow women.
2.Recognition of the role of women in economic growth.
A week ago the first woman in Africa to become certified as a Captain of the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft Irene Koki Mutung’i had a twitter series in celebration of women in the Kenyan aviation industry .These women were captains,engineers or First Officers and some were raising families and pursuing their hobbies while holding these very demanding jobs.Kenya has a celebration of women in different fields through the Nation Media Group’s “Top 40 under 40” that celebrated women under the age of 40 in their different spheres of influence,be it in their careers or in entrepreneurship.
When more women and girls see the stories of such successful women then they dare to dream to pursue their dreams and to be the best in whatever areas of influence they hold in society .We also allow girls to confront gender stereotypes especially in STEM career fields traditionally dominated by men and show them they have a role to play in the economic growth of their countries.
3.Supporting women in businesses
Through initiatives that allow more women owned businesses to get funding to scale up their businesses or equipping those who want to run successful businesses with skills,we allow more women to venture into entrepreneurship and grow their enterprises.
With more successfully businesses , we would increase the number of people in formal employment,reduce the high numbers of unemployment ,increase the tax base and create consumer societies that have been the success of developed markets.
Women empowerment programs.
Venturing into business can be a challenging and daunting task and supporting those who choose to start their own businesses with the skills and the mentorship they need to grow helps them navigate around the obstacles that come with setting up a business that will be successful.
It is the reason I created the Mezani Program that seeks to support women who choose to walk down this path of entrepreneurship.The programs mission is to empower women to succeed in business through training and mentorship programs.The program is aligned to 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals that seek to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (goal 5) and promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all(goal 8).
It also seeks to encourage employers to have more work friendly policies in place to allow more women to return to work through providing child care services at the workplace .We also seek to equip women en who have been out of the workforce for some time with the skills necessary for them to re enter the workforce.
This cannot be done by just people in the public sector or those in the private sector,it needs to be a collaborative effort that seeks to include half of the population in emerging market economies and making them not just participants of economic activities but critical players in key decision making roles in both business and government.
In a McKinsey Institute Global Report Power of Parity Published in 2015 :
Gender inequality is not only a pressing moral and social issue, but also a critical economic
challenge. The global economy cannot operate at its full potential with constraints holding
back a significant proportion of the world’s population. MGI estimates that fully closing
the global gap between men and women on labor-force participation, hours worked, and
the sector mix of employment could boost annual GDP by 26 percent over business-asusual forecasts for 2025. This maximum potential is equivalent to 2.2 percentage points
of incremental global GDP growth per year. In 2025 alone, up to $28 trillion—an amount
roughly equivalent to the size of today’s US and Chinese economies combined—could be
added to global GDP.
The agenda to empower women is not just a feminist agenda,it is an agenda for both genders.The participation of women is critical if emerging market economies are to achieve their full economic potential .
1.Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (Women and Men in Kenya Facts and Figures 2017).