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WOMEN&#39S DAY-KENYA: Equal Pay in Theory, Not Always in Fact

Kwamboka Oyaro

NAIROBI, Mar 7 2008 (IPS) - On Mar. 8, a century ago, thousands took to the streets of New York in demonstrations aimed at improving life for women. Burning issues of the day included the need for better working conditions – higher pay, a shorter work day – and winning the right to vote.

These protests, by women, led to Mar. 8 being named International Women&#39s Day – and they have also inspired the theme for this year&#39s commemorations: &#39Shaping Progress&#39. A hundred years on, how do the claims of the New York marchers resonate with women of today, especially on the critical matter of pay?

In Kenya, both government and the established private sector endorse the principle of equal pay for equal work. Wages are determined by level of entry into an organisation or by years of service, says Titus Ruhiu, chief executive of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, although he notes that matters are more problematic in certain sectors – including agriculture.

"It is just because they think men have more output than women. But professional jobs pay equally for work done, to both men and women, in accordance with their qualifications."

Anna Amadi, deputy executive director at the Kenyan chapter of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya), is less sanguine.

"Companies or jobs where one negotiates one&#39s pay have rampant pay disparities. A woman working at a reputable law firm in Nairobi realised after months that she was earning half what a male colleague was earning, although they were employed on the same day and had the same job title," she told IPS.

When the woman sought an explanation she was told that as a wife, she did not have as much financial pressure on her as would a man in her position: while men typically paid rent and took care of family bills, married women had husbands to meet these obligations. Disgusted, the woman lawyer quit her job.

"This is a law firm where people know their rights. I can imagine the situation is worse in non-legal organisations…Women suffer in silence," said Amadi.

Matters appear to be better in government, at first glance; but traditional gender roles are also making themselves felt in the civil service – ensuring that pay gaps emerge over time, even if men and women are paid equally at the point of employment.

Isaac Were, co-ordinator of gender and employment at the University of Nairobi&#39s Department of Gender Studies, says men tend to get more money through allowances because of their ability to work overtime.

"A woman will be reluctant to work overtime. She is concerned about her security and time for family. A man is flexible and he can work late into the night and even Sundays. He gets paid for this, thus earning more than a woman at the same level," he told IPS.

"Because of this flexibility you can actually depend on a man to go on a short course instantly, while the woman must plan. The man&#39s extra work earns him good rating during performance appraisal and this enhances his chances for promotion."

Civil servants also talk of study opportunities and trips abroad (with handsome allowances) being awarded to men – again because women are, or are perceived to be, too bound up by family responsibilities to take advantage of the assignments.

These complaints are echoed by human rights lawyer Josephine Omwenga.

"In many organisations, women are shoveled aside – (for) reasons such as family commitments – as men are sponsored by the company to acquire new skills which put them at an advantage to grab promotion, while the woman&#39s lack of additional skills justifiably knocks her out."

At worst, the mere prospect of a woman having family ties may work against her. "Some people are reluctant to employ women of child-bearing age, preferring a man to a woman even if the woman has better qualifications," said Amadi.

An official at the Ministry of Labour who preferred to go unnamed told IPS authorities were aware that women could be earning less than they deserved in certain instances, but that government had yet to put these discrepancies in the spotlight: "Without watchdogs such as unions making noise, then we assume everything is OK, and we go on with other labour issues."

So, where are the watchdogs?

Lucy Abega of the Foundation for Gender and Equality, a non-governmental organisation based in the capital – Nairobi – claims that unions tend to be "old boys&#39 networks" which fail to advance women&#39s rights. "Thus, women…benefit from the common bargaining agreement along with all members, but there is nothing that addresses their special needs," she told IPS.

IPS could not obtain comment from the National Commission on Gender and Development about this issue at the time of publication, and it appears that organisations for the various professions and civil society have yet to undertake comprehensive initiatives focusing on how women fall behind on the pay scale because of domestic responsibilities and gender perceptions.

However, FIDA Kenya is planning to undertake such research in future and recommend appropriate action.

Matilda Musumba, a gender activist working with the United Nations in Nairobi, argues that women need to be far more assertive in pushing for equal pay.

"It is time women did something about it…and even adopt men&#39s strategies of networking to get what they want," she told IPS.

"Men play golf and it is during such tournaments that major deals are signed. Women must not necessarily play golf, but they must learn the tricks of getting there and stop shying away from challenges and wallowing in self pity."

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