[Column] Mary Ngechu: Placing women at the center of development discourse works
Any conversations around increasing our competitiveness as a country without looking at women’s involvement are echoes in a hollow chamber. This is no longer a ‘good conversation to have’; it is an urgent measure that needs to be taken.
As such, it was a significant and historical moment when His Excellency the President, Dr William Samoei Ruto, committed to the two-thirds gender rule as enshrined in the Constitution, in his inauguration speech. He appreciated that women’s participation in the country’s governance makes us greater as a country, and recognized that it needs to be substantive. Additionally, the President committed to work with Parliament to fast-track various legislative proposals and establish a framework to expedite the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule.
When we look at countries across the world with women at the decision-making table, one thing stands out – they are recording significant development gains. For instance, women-led nations such as New Zealand, Germany, Finland and Taiwan were hailed for how they steered their countries when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020. These women leaders’ leadership styles during the crisis offered valuable insights and lessons on how to overcome crises, even in future.
This demonstrates that elevating women in decision-making benefits politics, businesses, and communities. However, data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide. According to UN Women, as of 19th September 2022, there were 28 countries where 30 women serve as Heads of State and/or Government. 13 countries have a woman Head of State, and 15 countries have a woman Head of Government. Only 21 per cent of ministers were women, with only 14 countries having cabinets comprising of 50 per cent or more women. This means that we are yet to reach the aspirations set out in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the internationally agreed target to balanced political participation and power-sharing between women and men in decision-making. Reversing this requires commitment and action from all partners and stakeholders, including Government and the business community.
His Excellency the President also recognized the need to drive the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), who are the backbone of our country’s economy. It is worth noting that, majority of SMEs are owned and run by women. Therefore, the focus on SMEs is a welcome intervention. This is because, despite the huge role that SMEs play in driving the growth of our economy, it is estimated that their contribution to production is minimal, and many of them specialize in low-value addition. The time is ripe to create a conducive space for SMEs to be productive and profitable at local and regional levels.
Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) recognizes the importance of women in driving inclusive economic development for job and wealth creation. One of the ways of doing this is increasing production, which is possible through a competitive manufacturing sector. We continue to advocate for an inclusive industry, through the establishment of policies and policy incentives that encourage women to be key players in value and supply chains.
Women are making strides in steering growth of the global manufacturing sector. They are also demonstrating that manufacturing is a fulfilling career with limitless opportunities. As a country we need to equip, mentor, and build women who will start businesses as well as take up decision-making positions.
Our aspiration as an Association is to see more women participate in the sector in senior leadership roles, as owners and founders, and for young girls to see themselves as future industrialists. It is our hope that this is replicated in government by the new administration, whereby we shall have more women leaders. The first critical step is to understand women’s representation, address the challenges they face, and seal gaps that inhibit their participation.
We are optimistic that the increased involvement of women in the decision-making process will bring viable solutions to the challenges facing the country. It is time for Kenya to recognize the benefits of women in leadership and place even more women in positions of power.
Mary Ngechu is the Chair of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) Women in Manufacturing (WIM) Programme