By Mary Ngechu
The just concluded elections are a testament that with the right laws, policies and affirmative action, women can thrive in whatever they set out to achieve. A record-breaking 7 women were elected as governors in different counties. Others were elected as Members of Parliament, Senators and Members of County Assemblies (MCAs). Women now have a platform to support their communities, and drive economic development at large.
Historically, women across the world have faced significant barriers hindering them from participating in the political, economic and social spaces. This is attributed to cultural barriers as well as levels of education and access to opportunities. Unfortunately, this is the state of play in Kenya’s manufacturing sector.
From a Women in Manufacturing (WIM) Study Report by Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) in 2020, Kenya’s manufacturing sector is predominately male owned and staffed. Women working in the manufacturing sector reported that policy formulation was not gender-responsive within manufacturing companies. These gender-neutral policies result in disparities in pay, promotions, and job security between men and women..
Other significant barriers to women’s participation in manufacturing include challenges in accessing finance, the high cost of production and a complex taxation framework that affects profitability, making Kenya a harsh operating environment. These challenges are compounded for women-owned businesses, since most of them are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and operate in the informal sector.
Kenya has made significant progress to increase women’s participation in politics and even the economy. For instance, we have a robust and favourable framework that women in manufacturing can leverage for greater involvement, productivity, competitiveness, and profitability. Examples include Vision 2030; the Buy Kenya Build Kenya (BKBK) initiative; and various legislations that make it easier to register businesses and access funding to establish and scale up enterprises. The country also offers opportunities that can enhance women’s participation and contribution in the industry through increased affirmative action opportunities such as the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) and some affirmative action funds such as Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) and UWEZO Fund. However, a lot more still needs to be done to achieve gender equality. One of the ways of doing this, is by looking into our legal and policy frameworks.
In taking a legal approach, we need to make a deliberate effort to review specific laws that affect the manufacturing sector through a gender lens and create guidelines for gender-responsive implementation. It is also paramount that we strengthen the implementation of existing gender-aware or gender-sensitive laws through guidelines that recognize and address the differential gender needs of entrepreneurs. Finally, it is important to create effective collaborative engagements between public sector oversight agencies to ensure compliance in the implementation of the laws that affect women in manufacturing.
On the policy side, we urge the Government to consolidate legal, regulatory, and compliance requirements in a single place to enhance efficiency and reduce the cost of doing business. Additionally, implement Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) awareness campaigns aimed at girls and young women that encourage them to take up STEM subjects and take up Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) or other skills-based courses. Targeted financial and tax education and exemptions for women-led and women-owned manufacturing companies are also a critical pillar of increasing women’s participation in manufacturing.
According to UN, it would take another 40 years for women and men to be equally represented in national and political leadership at the current pace. With time to achieve SDGs quickly running out, we must urgently take action to increase women’s participation in all sectors, to achieve shared prosperity as a country.
The participation of women is critical in driving growth. Any conversations around increasing our competitiveness as a country without looking at women’s involvement are echoes in a hollow chamber.
Women as leaders and decision-makers at all levels are critical to advancing gender justice and gender equality—and to furthering economic, social, and political progress. As the late United Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women,’’ let us change the narrative on women in leadership and confront socio-cultural drivers of gender inequality.
The writer is the Chair of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) Women in Manufacturing (WIM) Programme and can be reached at email@example.com.