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Key findings
  • Survey findings show significant gender imbalances in Kenyan society: o Women are less likely than men to have secondary education (39% vs. 44%) and post-secondary education (19% vs. 25%). o Women trail men in ownership of key assets such as a bank account (41% vs. 58%), a motor vehicle (18% vs. 27%), and a computer (11% vs. 17%). o Fewer women than men say they have control over how household money is spent (33% vs. 40%).
  • Seven in 10 Kenyans (70%) oppose the idea that men should be given priority in hiring when jobs are scarce. Far fewer men than women insist on gender equality when it comes to jobs (60% vs. 81%).
  • A similar majority (72%) say women should have the same right as men to own and inherit land. Again men trail women in their commitment to equality (59% vs. 84%).
  • Almost nine out of 10 Kenyans (87%) say women should have the same chance as men of being elected to public office. o But while more than three-fourths (77%) of citizens say a woman and her family will probably gain standing in the community if she runs for elective office, many also think she is likely to be criticised or harassed (53%) and to face problems with her family (40%).
  • More than six in 10 Kenyans (62%) say the government is performing “fairly well” or “very well” in promoting equal rights and opportunities for women. Even so, 77% think the government and elected officials should be doing more in pursuit of gender equality.

Despite a progressive Constitution that promotes equal rights for women, gender inequality remains a key issue of concern in Kenya. The patriarchal social order supported by statutory, religious, and customary laws and practices has continued to hamper the attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment (Republic of Kenya, 2019). 

The 2023 Global Gender Gap Index ranks Kenya 77th out of 146 countries, down from 57th the year before (World Economic Forum, 2023).  

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but also a critical aspect of sustainable development. The United Nations’ (2022) Sustainable Development Goal No. 5 aims at ensuring that women and girls have equal rights and opportunity to live free of violence and all form of discrimination. According to UN Women (2021), achieving gender equality by 2030 requires urgent action to eliminate the root causes of discrimination that restrain women from realising their full potential in private and public spaces. 

Kenya’s Constitution recognises equality and non-discrimination as core values and calls upon the state to ensure that no more than two-thirds of elective and appointive positions of leadership are held by a single gender (Republic of Kenya, 2010; Kenya Law, 2020). In the 2022 election, women won 10% of seats in the National Assembly, 6% in the Senate, 8% in county assemblies, and 15% of governorships, according to data from UN Women (2022).  

President William Ruto’s Cabinet, unveiled in September 2022, included seven women, making up 32% of the Cabinet. Three other women appointed as advisers and as secretary to the Cabinet raised the representation of women in the executive to 39%, up from 30% in the 2017 Cabinet (UN Women, 2022).  

In addition to Kenya’s commitment as a signatory to the Maputo Protocol, recent government measures to reduce Kenya’s gender gap include the Matrimonial Property Act (2013), which protects women’s property rights during and upon dissolution of a marriage; the Marriage Act (2014), which gives effect to constitutional provisions on equality between parties to a marriage; and the Land Act and Land Registration Act (2012), which secure women’s rights to own land. 

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender equality in control over assets, hiring, land ownership, and political leadership. 

In Kenya, findings show persistent gender gaps in higher education, asset ownership, and financial autonomy. While most citizens endorse gender equality in hiring, land rights, and politics, many also consider it likely that women who seek elective office will be criticised or harassed. 

Overall, Kenyans give the government a thumbs-up on its efforts to promote gender equality but say that more needs to be done.

Simon Templer Kodiaga

Simon Kodiaga previously served as the communications coordinator for East Africa at Afrobarometer.