Gender parity a pipe dream, 25 years after Beijing meet

Friday, March 6th, 2020 00:00 |
Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka, nominated senators Getrude Musuruve and Alice Milgo look at copies of legislation sponsored by women during International Women’s Day in Parliament yesterday. Photo/PD/SAMUEL KARIUKI

It will take about a century before any country can achieve gender equality, the 2020 Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum recently revealed.

Exactly 25 years after the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the report shows that gender gap will not be bridged for the next 99.5 years.

The Beijing conference attended by an estimated 47,000 people spearheaded gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.

It produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, which set global agenda on gender equality.

Under strategy adopted by 189 countries, Kenya included, the nations committed to empower women by protecting them from violence, upholding their rights, ending poverty and increasing their involvement in decision-making.

Since the document that led to recognition and respect of women rights was adpted, there have been mixed results in gender equality.

The celebration of this year’s International Women’s day under the theme I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights offers an opportunity to take stock of the progress made 25 years on.

Maternal deaths have fallen by 38 per cent since 2000 according to statistics by UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and women empowerment.

More than 130 countries have passed laws to support gender equality and to deal with discrimination.

At the time of the 1995 meeting, women in seven nations were denied equal voting rights.

Today, there are no restrictions on participation on gender basis except in the Vatican and Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, enrolment of girls in school has increased and more women are studying in tertiary institutions than men are globally.

In 2018, 88 per cent of women were enrolled for primary education compared to 91 per cent for  boys.

Despite such strides, women political representation remains dismal. “There has been progress, but no country has achieved gender equality. Our best isn’t good enough.

Challenges remain for all countries, although many of them are not insurmountable,” says UN Women executive director, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka.

Statistics from UN Women show that even though the number of national parliamentarians had doubled since 1995, it remained a meager 23.4 per cent as of 2019.

With 61.3 per cent women Parliamentarians, Rwanda has the highest women representation across the world. 

 Locally, this unequal representation for women is epitomised by the reluctance by the Kenyan Parliament to enact the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill 2018.

Also referred to as the Gender Bill, it seeks to legislate on the constitutional requirement that no gender should have more than two third representations in elective posts. 

In March 2019 when the enactment of the bill was to be debated in Parliament, it flopped for the fourth time due to lack of a quorum for a constitutional amendment, which requires the presence of two thirds of the legislators.

According to the United Nations Population Fund-Kenya Country Representative Dr Ademola Olajide, the low representation of women in Parliament is a key area where Kenya is lagging behind in bridging the gender gap.

Gender based violence and cultural practices that oppress women are other areas where the gap is wide.

 Statistics by the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014, 39 per cent of women and girls aged 15 and above have experienced physical violence.

The rate of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) stood at 21 per cent by  2014. President Uhuru Kenyatta has committed to end FGM by 2022.

“Gender-based violence continues to be a problem. If we are able to address some of the issues that are deeply rooted on patriarchy or just ignorance, we might be able to bridge the gap,” says Dr Olajide. 

The global gender report shows that there are also huge inequalities for women in economic participation. There is less representation of women in the labour force.

Further within the labour force, there are pay disparities for employees on the same rank that favour men over women. Women in the same senior positions as men are still paid less.

The gender gap report notes that without tackling these challenges, the quest for gender parity will not be achieved. Ademola says bridging the gender gap will take time and will be achieved at different paces for various countries.

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