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Is Kenya ready for a female president? A review of reports of greater gender equality in Kenya

14th June 2011

By: In On Africa IOA


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"Six in ten of the surveyed Kenyans mentioned they would vote for a woman president if elections were held today," proclaims the International Women’s Day (IWD) poll conducted by Infotrak Research and Consulting in Kenya in 2011.(2) Combined with a brief glance at Kenyan news and current events, the above statement creates the impression that life is changing for Kenyan women, and that it is changing for the better. This CAI paper discusses two indicators of positive change for Kenya, namely the Harris Poll, conducted by Kenya-based Infotrak Research and Consulting, and the 2010 Kenyan Constitution.

A brief overview


According to the CIA World Factbook, there are only slightly more men than women in Kenya.(3) The life expectancy for women is 60 years, just two years more than men.(4) Considering the fact that both boys and girls are expected to spend the same amount of time in education – 11 years (5) - one might be fooled into thinking that Kenya is more gender equal than is actually the case.

There are, however, certain factors that reveal just how unequal gender relations are in Kenya. Whilst Kenya has a relatively high literacy rate across the board (85.1%), estimates show that significantly more men (90.6%) than women (79.7%) are literate.(6) Although women are legally equal to men when it comes to property ownership, customary law still dictates that men ought to either take over or to act as arbitrator over their wives’ property.(7) Women own only 4% of the country’s land.(8) Until recently, customary law dictated inheritance, favouring the husband’s parents over the wife and children in case of dispute.(9) Within Muslim communities, custom often precedes general law in Kenya. As a result, while Kenyan law holds that no person may be married under the age of 16, it is generally accepted that Muslim traditional marriages need not adhere to this law.(10)


It has been pointed out that there is a disparity between Kenyan law and how it is practiced.(11) Judges and law enforcers are considered lax in their enforcement of gender laws in the country,(12) often seeking to make money out of a situation rather than apply the law.(13) As is often the case, rural areas tend to stick to customary law while urban areas are more receptive to the political and legal principles of the country. It is with this in mind that one must consider the following indicators of change.

Infotrak’s opinion poll: A change in attitude

Infotrak Research and Consulting, a group member of the U.S.-based Harris Interactive Global, conducted an opinion poll on 17 and 18 February 2011 about the perspectives of gender equality in Kenya to date. They released their findings in time for IWD 2011. They interviewed 1,500 Kenyans from different regions and consider their findings to have 2.5% margin of error.(14) Infotrak discovered a notably favourable change in attitudes towards women in civil society and government. In 2011, 91% of the respondents reported that they wanted civil society to be involved with gender equality, displaying a marked increase from 2008 (62%) and 2010 (88%).(15) Similarly, more people feel that women have equal access to political participation in 2011 (59%), compared with 2008 (41%) and 2010 (48%).(16) There has also been greater recognition of women taking an active role in government in 2011 (72% of those who felt women had equal access to political participation), compared with 2008 (49%) and 2010 (64%).(17) Most felt that women had been most active at a parliamentary level (62%), followed by the ministerial (20%) and civic (20%) levels.(18) More than half of the respondents felt that women should be actively involved in parliamentary and ministerial government.(19)

The finding that made news headlines (20) – that 60% of Kenyans would vote for a female president – also considered the gender of the respondents. Infotrak found that women (71%) are more likely to vote for a female president than men are (51%).(21) Nonetheless, both groups were more favourable to the idea than they were a year prior, showing a general shift of 7% in favour of voting for a female president.(22)

Despite the glaring flaw that Infotrak does not show in its findings how rural areas compare to urban areas, their findings still reveal a national receptiveness to women in power. This seems to point to a change in attitude among most Kenyans towards women in general. A change in attitudes towards women could positively affect the application of law in the rural areas, as many judges and law enforcers become less responsive to the gender inequalities in customary law. It is precisely this sort of attitudinal shift that is needed for the 2010 Kenyan Constitution to be applied correctly by Kenya’s legal institutions.

Kenya’s new constitution and gender equality

In a referendum on 4 August 2010, Kenyans voted 67% in favour of the new Constitution.(23) The previous Constitution allowed gender inequalities associated with customary law to flourish but the 2010 Constitution (24) contains several clauses that favour gender equality. The 2010 Constitution, recognises shared ownership of matrimonial property, a move which prevents the husband’s parents from inheriting his property.(25) Whilst the old Constitution allowed the husband to have complete authority when it come to matrimonial property, the 2010 Constitution requires that both spouses be involved in decisions relating to matrimonial property.(26) By insisting that all marriages be registered under an Act of Parliament, the 2010 Constitution ensures that the gender equality in national law apply to all customary marriages as well.(27)

Apart from equality in marriage, Kenya’s 2010 Constitution also prescribes gender equality in government. Most notable is the clause holding that ‘not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.’(28) This clause prevents the Kenyan Parliament, for instance, from being dominated by men and ensures that women are represented throughout government. It states that “The chairperson and vice-chairperson of a commission shall not be of the same gender,”(29) ensuring that men and women jointly occupy positions of power in Governmental structures.

In an interview with IPS News, Njoki Ndung'u, a member of the Committee of Experts which drafted the new Constitution, said “there are over 40 benefits ranging from simple gender-neutral language to those that are life-changing, like the non-discrimination clause outlawing bias on the basis of sex, pregnancy or marital status.”(30) Yet, these benefits could still amount to nothing if the Constitution was not supported by the people. As the Infotrak poll suggests, there is reason to believe that Kenyans are willing to support the 2010 Constitution’s gender equality clauses.

Challenges to the new Constitution

Despite constitutional progress, Kenya’s government must still go some distance before it even observes the minimum requirements laid out by the 2010 Constitution. In March 2011, the Mzalendo Parliamentary monitoring project noted that the number of women in government ranged mostly in the single digits for each level of government.(31) Only 21 of the 222 parliamentarians, 7 of the 47 ministers, 6 of the 52 Assistant Ministers, 7 of the 44 permanent secretaries and none of the 8 provincial commissioners are women.(32) Clearly, the attitudinal shift in Kenya has not been sufficient to create a change in the top structures. What has become evident is that the most important place this change needs to occur in, is in the minds of Kenyan women.

The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIOC) found that only 10% of the applicants for positions in governmental structures were women.(33) Many suspect that this is because Kenyan women are afraid to take top positions from men.(34) Historically and culturally, top political positions had been reserved for men. A combination of internalised cultural patriarchy and a genuine fear of men who would not accept women in positions of power still keep Kenyan women from taking a more active role in the Government of Kenya.
Concluding remarks

Almost all the statistics in the Infotrak poll show an upward trend: people’s attitudes are changing for the better, and appear set to continue to do so. It is true that Kenyan women have centuries of patriarchy and misogyny to deal with, and that the gender bias of culture will take a long time to fade. It is also true, on the other hand, that Kenya is in the process of creating the legal and governmental apparatus through which it will be able to challenge this history. And Kenyans are receptive to this challenge, as the shift in attitudes tells. More will have to be done to undo the prejudices and biases in Kenya’s history and, thankfully, many men also realise this (as was shown in the Infotrak report). Fortunately, it appears that the Kenyan Government is setting the trend for its citizens by implementing a new Constitution which protects the rights of women and grants them access to positions of power in their own country.


(1) Contact Aidan Prinsloo through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).
(2) ‘Infotrak Harris poll International Women’s Day: the Kenyan perspective2011’, Infotrak Research and Consulting, 2011,
(3) CIA, ‘The World Factbook: Africa, Kenya’, The World Factbook,
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ibid.
(7) ‘Gender equality in Kenya’, Wikigender, 14 December 2010,
(8) Ibid.
(9) Susan Anyungu-Amu, ‘New constitution a winner with women’, IPS News, 6 August 2010,
(10) ‘Gender equality in Kenya’, Wikigender, 14 December 2010,
(11) Ibid.
(12) Ibid.
(13) Nyokabi Kamau, ‘Why female genital mutilation persists’, The Daily Nation, 9 May 2011,
(14) ‘Infotrak Harris poll International Women’s Day: the Kenyan perspective2011’, Infotrak Research and Consulting, 2011,
(15) Ibid.
(16) Ibid.
(17) Ibid.
(18) Ibid.
(19) Ibid.
(20) Peter Opiyo, ‘Kenyan’s ready for a woman president – poll’, The Standard, Online Edition, 7 March 2011,
(21) ‘Infotrak Harris poll International Women’s Day: the Kenyan perspective2011’, Infotrak Research and Consulting, 2011,
(22) Ibid.
(23) Miriama Diallo, ‘New Kenyan constitution ratified’, Voice of America News, 6 August 2010,
(24) The Constitution of Kenya 2010, revised edition. Kenya: National Council for Law Reporting,
(25) Susan Anyungu-Amu, ‘New constitution a winner with women’, IPS News, 6 August 2010,
(26) Ibid.
(27) Ibid.
(28) The Constitution of Kenya 2010, revised edition. s.27(8), pp.24-25. Kenya: National Council for Law Reporting,
(29) Ibid, s.250(11), p.153.
(30) Susan Anyungu-Amu, ‘New constitution a winner with women’, IPS News, 6 August 2010,
(31) Mzalendo Contributor, ‘Women and top political office’, Mzalendo, 10 March 2011,
(32) Ibid.
(33) Lucianne Limo, ‘Nyachae: so what holds women from seeking big positions?’, The Standard Online Edition, 12 May 2011,
(34) Ibid.

Written by Aidan Prinsloo (1)


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