Meeting the promise of the 2010 Constitution: Devolution, gender and equality in Kenya

This latest report from UK think tank Chatham House looks at the importance of devolution in enhancing gender equality in Kenya.

The 2010 constitution was intended to transform the lives of Kenya’s minorities and marginalized groups, notably women. It enshrined equality in law, and led to the establishment of key institutions aimed at promoting and protecting minorities, particularly women. But 10 years on, women remain significantly marginalized in Kenya. The government has failed to comply with the constitution and has not adequately funded or supported gender policy commitments. Little progress has been made towards mainstreaming gender considerations into fiscal policy or budgetary decisions. Programmes to support women’s economic participation and entrepreneurship have been small-scale, marginal and short-term. The other centrepiece of the 2010 constitution was the ‘big bang’ devolution of power to Kenya’s 47 county governments, implemented in 2013. This had the potential to reshape gender dynamics in Kenya and to improve county governments’ decision-making. County governments represent the level of government closest to the people, and are therefore better positioned than national-level policymakers to directly address gender inequality. Devolved government has faced significant challenges, including incoherent national policymaking and leadership, weak technical capacity at county level, poorly implemented or non-existent mechanisms for public consultation, and a lack of gender-disaggregated data on which to base policymaking. Despite these obstacles, some counties have made real progress. But overall the impact of devolution on equality has been limited. Projects to help marginalized groups still account for a minimal percentage of county government budgets, and fail to address the systematic gendered impacts of decision-making and budgeting. There is a glaring gap between policy commitments and actual investments by county governments. However, devolved governance in Kenya is in its infancy and still offers a window of opportunity for effective policy initiatives and real-world change. An approach that emphasizes genderresponsive budgeting can begin to address systematic inequalities, including through gender budget statements, the collection of accurate gender-disaggregated statistics, and the provision of adequate support to mechanisms for public consultation. Effective oversight is possible through elected county assemblies. National and county treasuries should spearhead initiatives in this field with relevant support from all stakeholders. Gender-responsive budgeting is sustainable only if policymakers at both central and local levels of government own the process. This depends on sustained political will. There are multiple cross-cutting cultural, political and economic dynamics that shape outcomes in Kenya, most of which lie outside the scope of this paper. Further research is necessary. But though its first 10 years have not brought the change that Kenya’s most marginalized people had hoped to see, the 2010 constitution can still fulfil its promise, and act as an effective vehicle for achieving broadbased and sustainable equality for all.

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