Key facts

The Republic of Kenya is a country in Eastern Africa, with a population of approximately 41.61 million people. It lies on the equator and is bordered by Ethiopia (North), Somalia (East), Tanzania (South), Uganda (West), and Sudan (Northwest), with the Indian Ocean running along the southeast border. It has an extension of 582,646 sq. km. The country is named after Mount Kenya – before 1920, the area now known as Kenya was known as the British East Africa Protectorate. Kenya is a diverse nation of 42 distinct ethnic groups. Official languages are Swahili and English and the currency is Kenyan Shilling.

Political context

Kenya’s political context has been heavily shaped by historical domestic tensions and contestation associated with centralisation and abuse of power, high levels of corruption, a more than two decades long process of constitutional review and post-election violence. The approval of the new constitution in 2010 and relatively peaceful elections in March 2013 are milestones constituting steps forward in Kenya’s transition from political crisis.

The Constitutional Review Process

Campaigning for constitutional review initiated in the late 1980s by civil society actors, mainly intellectuals and human rights activists, in response to over 40 years of authoritarian rule, decay of the institutions of government, sharp economic decline, and lack of access to basic services and trust in the government. Campaigning intensified in early 1990s and rapidly won the support of religious groups, opposition political parties, professional associations, trade unions, and a broad spectrum of civil society. The campaign was bolstered by the emphasis of international finance institutions and donors on “good governance” enabling campaigners to secure political support and financial assistance from international development organisations.

The process initiated under the leadership of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC), an expert independent body whose tasks were, amongst others, to prepare a draft constitution for consideration at a National Constitutional Conference (NCC) tasked with debating (and if necessary amending) and adopting the document and to the National Assembly (NA) responsible for enacting changes to the constitution by formal amendments.

A landmark of this process was the 2005 referendum that resulted in people’s rejection of the proposal put forward by the government which diverted significantly from the draft prepared by CKRC. A different draft constitution was then produced by the Attorney General Amos Wako that included new changes that did not reflect the consensus that had been reached. It was submitted to a referendum on 21 November 2005 and rejected by 58% of voters.

Intended to last two years, the review process only culminated in 2010 after parallel review processes (government led and civil society led – known as Ufungamano Initiative), establishment of several Constitutional review forums (such as the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group – IPPG), several amendments of the Constitutional Review Act of 2000,  a series of national conferences, two referendums and post-election violence that culminated with a power-sharing agreement called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act which included provisions for constitutional review. The new constitution was only adopted after a second referendum held on 4th August 2013, when 67% of Kenyans voted in favour of its introduction.

The new constitution introduces an expanded Bill of Rights that includes social, economic and cultural rights (with a strong focus on the needs and entitlements of children and women), reduces Presidents’ powers, defines better separation of powers between the three arms of government, circumscribes the power of security agencies, reforms the electoral devolves power to regions and introduces changes to the budget process. In relation to gender equality and women’s rights, the Constitution charts out targeted measures that deal with the traditional exclusion experienced Kenyan women. It requires affirmative action measures to be taken at various levels to ensure that women are included in decision-making processes. It sets aside a number of slots in political institutions which should mandatorily be filled by women. It variously exhorts public institutions and agencies to avoid taking measures that discriminate against women and girls. In addition it sets up various institutions that should oversee the implementation of the new gender responsive framework.

The main shortcomings of the new Constitution are that it fails to establish clear principles to deal with past human rights violations; restricts sexual and reproductive rights and opens space for the application of religious laws in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Socio-economic context

Kenya has the largest and most diverse economy in East Africa, with an average annual growth rate of over 5% for nearly a decade. In terms of Human Development Index Kenya ranks highest in the region. Its entrepreneurship and human capital give it huge potential for further growth, job creation and poverty reduction. The recent discovery of oil and other mineral resources creates great potential for the Kenyan economy. However, despite a decline of the country’s absolute poverty rate, wealth has not been distributed equally. Kenya remains a highly unequal society by income, by gender, and by geographical location.  Poverty is highest in the arid and semi-arid areas that cover about 80% of the land area and are inhabited by about 20% of the population. Poverty also affects the coastal area, which receives fewer resources. Rapid population growth is another major challenge, further complicated by high unemployment rates especially among the youth. More than 70 per cent of Kenya’s population are below the age of 30 and the population under age 14 alone amounts to 43 percent.

Policy Influencing Actors

Civil society

The “civil society scene” is characterised by increased voice and protest and negative memories of past repression and violence. Kenyan civil society groups are actively engaged in the political life of the country and media is considered vibrant and active.

Feminist and women’s groups are amongst the most active, particularly in policy influencing. Four Kenyan civil organisations formed a coalition and established the national campaign for “Safeguarding the Gains of Women in the Draft Constitution” aimed at mainstreaming social justice, gender mainstreaming and gender equality in the language and mechanisms of the review process and in the final constitution. An important element of this process was the coalition’s commitment to women’s solidarity across diversities and the negotiation of the ethnic tensions, conflict and competition for resources that permeate the Kenyan society, including civil society organisations.

Civil society actors

  • Kenya Human Rights Commission
  •  Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN)
  • Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK)
  • Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA)
  • Coalition of Violence against Women
  • Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK),
  • Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW),
  • Girl Child Network (GCN), GROOTS Kenya,
  • Maendeleo ya Wanawake
  • African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)
  • Women’s Savings and Credit Co-operative (SACCO) societies
  • Education Center for Women in Democracy (ECWD)
  • Men for Gender Equality Now
  • African Women and Children Feature Service (AWCFS)
  • Development through Media (DTM)
  • African Center for Women Information Technology (ACWICT)
  • International Commissions of Jurist -Kenya (ICJ –K)
  • Tomorrow’s Child Initiative (TCI)
  • Women Empowerment Link (WELL)
  • Woman Kind Kenya
  • Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)


Kenya’s development expenditure is financed by government borrowing or by grants from development partners but the country is not heavily dependent on external aid. Official development aid (ODA) corresponds to about 5% per cent of Kenya’s gross national income (GNI). Foreign aid has shrunk considerably, from 20 per cent in 1993 to a 3-5 per cent average in the 2000s while the significance of external loans (4% of the budget in 2012), especially from non-Western sources has increased.

Kenya’s ten biggest bilateral and multilateral donors are the US, the World Bank (International Development Association), the UK, Japan, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), France, the EU, Germany, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Denmark. Among Kenya’s new partners, China has a strong presence in the infrastructure sector and its importance is growing rapidly. The Kenya Joint Assistance Strategy 2007–2012 provides the framework for development cooperation, presents a core strategy of 17 development donors’ support to national development planning in Kenya, including the evolving 2030 Vision, and the efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

Women’s Political Representation

Women’s political representation in leadership in Kenya is below the global average, despite improvements in the recent election, triggered by the 2010 Constitution. In 2010, the Kenyan parliament had 10 per cent women representation. Currently it has 15 per cent, one of the lowest incidence in the Eastern African region. Women occupy 87 of the 416 seats of the newly-established National Assembly and Senate chambers.  Women occupy 6 of 16 positions of the Kenyan cabinet (meeting the one-third minimum constitutional requirement) and lead important ministries: defence, of foreign affairs, devolution and planning, land, housing and urban development, East African affairs, commerce and tourism, environment, and water and national resources. Women occupy 7 of 26 cabinet principal secretaries’ positions (below the constitutionally mandated one-third minimum).

National Gender Mechanisms

  • Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development (established in 2003).
  • Department of Gender and Social Development, within the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development
  • National Commission on Gender and Development (created in 2003 and operationalized in 2004)
  • Division of Gender and Social Development
  • National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) within the parliament
  • Kenyan Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA)
  • Women’s Enterprise Fund (launched in 2007)
  • Youth Enterprise Fund (established in 2006)
  • Gender desks and gender officers in ministries and state corporations
  • Multi-Sectoral Task Force on the Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act, 2006
  • National Committee for the Abandonment of FGM/C (NaCAF)
  • National Task Force for Gender and Education
  • Ministerial Task Force on Girls’ Education

Legal and Policy Frameworks on Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

National Policies

  • Kenya Vision 2030 (Kenya’s long-term development strategy implemented through five-year Medium Term Plans – MTPs)
  • Second Medium Term Plan 2013-2017
  • National Policy in Gender and Development (adopted in 2005)
  • National Plan of Action to Implement the Gender Policy, 2008 –2012
  • National Gender and Equality Commission Strategic Plan 2013-2015 “Our First Mile”
  • Presidential directive (in 2006) that all government ministries and state corporations appointments of chief officers and directors must adhere to 30% affirmative action.
  • Sexual Offences Act (enacted in 2006)
  • Gender Policy in Education, Gender Mainstreaming Strategy for the Ministry of Agriculture and other sectoral strategies
  • Ministerial directive (issued in 2007) ensuring the participation of women in military service.
  • Monitoring & Evaluation framework for Gender Mainstreaming
  • Children’s Act outlaws Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to persons below the age of 18.
  • National Policy on Abandonment of FGM
  • National Plan of Action for Accelerating Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, 2008-2012
  • National Action Plan on FGM
  • Adolescent Reproductive Health and Development Policy, Action Plan 2005-2015
  • National Reproductive Health Policy (approved in 2007)
  • Political Parties Act, No. 10 (enacted in 2007, took effect in 2009)
  • National Land Policy

National Legislation

  • New Constitution (promulgated in August 2010)
  • Equal Opportunity Bill of 2007
  • Anti – Trafficking in Persons Bill
  • Family Protection Bill
  • Marriage Bill
  • Matrimonial Property Bill
  • The National Cohesion and Integration Act, No. 12 of 2008
  • The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act, No. 6 of 2008
  • Employment Act No. 11 of 2007
  • National Hospital Insurance Fund
  • National Social Security Fund
  • Social Protection Fund


Regional and International Instruments


  • Solemn Declaration for Gender Equality in Africa – SDGEA (signed in 2004)
  • African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (had not ratified in 2009)


  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Convention Against Torture (CAT)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
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