K4D Factsheet: Gender, countering violent extremism and women, peace and security in Kenya (November 2020)


Gender equality in Kenya

Kenya ranks 109 out of 153 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, with a score of 0.671. There are significant inequalities between males and females in education attainment, health outcomes, representation in parliament, and labour force participation. Women and adolescent girls are the most vulnerable group in Kenya, particularly to poverty: female poverty is exacerbated by genderbased violence (GBV), harmful cultural attitudes, and beliefs around gender roles, norms and female empowerment. Limited control over benefits from land and other resources, as well as unpaid childcare and domestic work, constrains women’s successful participation in the economy, particularly as producers and market actors. Women make up 80% of farm labourers and manage 40% of the country’s smallholder farms, yet own only 1% of agricultural land. Women’s ability to access the justice system is limited by legal costs, traditional justice systems, illiteracy and ignorance of rights.

Gender-based violence

GBV is common in Kenya. The 2014 Demographic Health Survey found that four in every ten women aged 15-49 were victims of violence before their 18th birthday. Physical, sexual and emotional violence are the most common forms of violence experienced by women in Kenya, followed by economic abuse. Women and girls have been targeted in electoral violence, seen both in 2007 and 2017. Western Kenya and Nyanza region, and Nairobi, reported the highest levels of physical and sexual abuse committed by spouses, while Busia, Kiambu, Machakos, Meru, Nakuru, Samburu and Vihiga counties reported the most cases of violence against women overall. Worryingly, a government survey found that five in every ten women aged 15-24 believed and accepted that men had the right to beat up women. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in incidents of GBV, largely due to prolonged periods of lockdown (most perpetrators live with the victims) and increased stress.
As well as passing legislation to address the problem (see box) the government has also set up a toll-free helpline for victims of GBV: as of 2017, over 47,000 cases had been reported through the helpline. Other initiatives include Gender Desks in police stations and Gender-based Violence Recovery Centres in major hospitals. Despite this, there are numerous challenges, such as a lack of facilities and resources for survivors, cultural attitudes that tolerate gender-based violence, and a lack of access to justice.

Women and countering violent extremism (CVE) in Kenya

In Kenya, women are largely missing from countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts. Despite the diversity of women’s roles in Al-Shabaab, gender stereotypes persist: women are typically viewed as victims, or as mothers, wives, etc. who can steer their men away from extremism. As a result, they have been left out of Kenya’s CVE agenda.
Women can play many roles in CVE: they can be returnees/recruiters who, if supported, can help others reject VE/defect/reintegrate; they are ideally positioned to detect and report on signs of violent extremism, especially because women themselves are often the first targets; they can be critical interlocutors with government/security agencies, helping shape CVE policies and programmes. Women’s rights organisations can also play these roles. Having women represented in security agencies builds trust with communities and allows access that would be difficult for men. Donor funding and pressure has led to the CVE agenda in Kenya becoming ‘an industry’. Civil society organisations (CSOs) are shifting to CVE in order to secure funding. Not all are suited for this, and it is detracting attention from other vital development areas. Women-led and women’s rights CSOs are particularly suffering, squeezed between the heavy-handedness of the security forces and the funding pressure from donors that sees CVE being prioritised over other issues.