Many studies on girls and women vis-à-vis health and education have been carried out in Kenya. Conclusions have been made on the various issues afflicting and affecting them. Despite the necessity of accessing health and education services for this group of society, it is sad that in Kenya, only a small percentage can access these services easily with the majority having to contend with mediocre services that are few and in between.
For decades, women seeking reproductive health services in Kenya have been suffering serious human rights violations, including physical and verbal abuse and detention in health facilities for inability to pay hospital fees. Shortage of funding, medical staff and equipment plague the health care system, particularly the public health institutions by dramatically interfering with the ability of health care staff to provide adequate and quality care efficiently. These systemic problems have persisted, in part, because of a dismal lack of accountability within the health care system, which in turn stems from a lack of basic awareness about patients’ rights and the absence of transparent and effective oversight mechanisms.
Looking at education, Kenya is faced with many gender and regional disparities. In North Eastern Province Gross Enrolment Rate for girls is 29% compared to 112% in Western Province.2 In Nairobi’s informal settlements only 22% of 15 to 17 year old girls were enrolled in school compared to 68% nationally and 73% in rural areas.3 In a country filled with cultural norms, girls in many communities are still seen as homemakers who do not deserve to go to school. Massive poverty has also crippled many families’ efforts to educate their children despite introduction of free primary education. With the little resources that some families have, they prefer to send their boys to school since it is believed that they are future wealth sources to their parents than the girls, as they will go on to be breadwinners. With HIV/AIDS killing many parents, many girls are left with the responsibility of taking care of their siblings, which inevitably takes them away from the classrooms.
Kenya’s legal system incorporates many laws concerning women. However, many of these laws, including the Constitution are discriminatory and have resulted in many women in Kenya having their rights violated, leaving them with little or no place for recourse. There have been several attempts to amend the Constitution in order to revise or discard laws and provisions within the Constitution that discriminate/ allow for discrimination of women. However these have not been successful. Dominant areas of discrimination are concerned with laws on inheritance, sexual and gender based violence.
Being a patriarchal society, Kenya has laws such as the Succession Act Cap 160 that discriminate against women when it comes to inheritance of property. Many women have been left destitute following the death of their husbands and fathers or after a divorce. Many of them succumb to threats and hostility from their in-laws, and move away from their homes to live in abject poverty.
The dominance of patriarchy in the society has also led to acceptance of gender based and sexual violence as normal behaviour. Traditionally, women in some communities even expect to be beaten by their husbands as a sign of love! The Sexual Offences Act 2006 has introduced stiffer penalties for sexual offenders in Kenya, but implementation and enforcement of the Act are still not mainstreamed despite the gender-based violence and sexual violence statistics rising. Marital rape which is also rampant has however not yet been criminalized as a crime punishable by law.
Nationally, young women under 24 years make up one fifth of the population. And yet reliable statistics and details on girls and women status are scarce, contradictory or specific to one region and lacking in others. The purpose of this booklet is to assist in the support of programme designs in order for the government, NGOs, Development Partners and the United Nations to reinforce programs for women and girls in this country. This publication shall not only provide information on the status quo with regards to women and girls vis-à-vis health, education and legal status and human rights in Kenya also expose weak areas where additional work is needed to improve on the said status.