Q&A: Gender data to drive several firsts for Kenya this year

Women join a demonstration against gender-based violence in Kenya. Photo by: Say NO - UNiTE / CC BY-NC-ND

MISSOULA, Mont. — Gender data will drive a number of firsts for Kenya in 2020. Right now, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics is training enumerators to carry out the country’s first time-use survey, with the help of UN Women’s Women Count program and other partners.

“Data is going to also be very important in demonstrating where poor women are, and where we should invest more resources across sectors.”

— Maureen Gitonga, gender statistics program specialist, UN Women

Time-use statistics are quantitative summaries of how individuals allocate their time over a specified period and can shed light on how much time women spend on unpaid care work. Once completed, it will mean Kenya is no longer the only country in the East African region that hasn’t conducted one, according to Maureen Gitonga, gender statistics program specialist at UN Women.

The country and its partners aren’t stopping there. By doing further analysis of existing household surveys, UN Women, together with UNICEF and KNBS, have been able to derive poverty profiles for women at both the national and county level.

“In essence, for the first time in Kenya, we should be able to know where poor women are,” Gitonga said. The partners have also been analyzing Kenya’s most recent demographic health survey to develop a women empowerment index “so that when you say ‘Maureen is empowered in Kenya,’ we know what indicators you are looking at,” Gitonga explained.

Devex caught up with Gitonga to find out what lessons can be learned from Kenya’s dedication to gender data, and what else can be expected from the country’s efforts this year.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you ensure that governments at the county level in Kenya can collect and manage the data they need to create gender-responsive policies? Are there recent examples of this?

Last year for the first time we were able to develop county gender data sheets that could show select counties: what are the critical gender dimensions across sectors? So that's important because 2020 [is] the year when we do the midterm review of our national development plans and county development plans.

With this type of data, they should be able to reorganize their plans, their policies, and their resources around the gender issues that were identified within the county gender datasheets.

I think that's critical. And then secondly, we are currently developing poverty profiles for all the 47 county governments. This is going to also be very important in demonstrating where poor women are, and where we should invest more resources across sectors.

You mentioned you've been conducting further analysis of existing surveys. What information are you able to glean from doing this, and how do you hope it informs policy in Kenya?

So I’ll just give two examples. First, the “Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey,” which was done in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. And this is what we are analyzing to generate poverty profiles, taking a multidimensional approach to look at a number of indicators that then define how children, women, and elderly people are deprived.

This becomes critical information, especially because of our Vision 2030, which is implemented in medium-term, five-year plans. The five-year plan has three critical pillars: An economic pillar, a social pillar, and a political pillar. The social and economic pillars become very important pillars to drive growth for our country. And the poverty profiles then demonstrate where the poor people are, and what interventions they require.

The second piece that we are undertaking further analysis on is a Kenya demographic health survey. This is the one we have used to derive the women empowerment index.

So we have eight critical indicators around areas such as health and education that we are looking at, and defining for ourselves that if a woman meets 80% — that's the threshold of these indicators — then she would be considered an empowered woman in Kenya. The problem is that of course this survey is a bit old — from 2014 — but we're going to carry out another DHS in 2020 [or 2021], and we look forward to a more robust index in the next few years based on that data.

I know that better tracking expenditure on gender across government agencies is also a priority. What sort of buy-in do you need from the government to achieve this?

I think the buy-in is already there because really the work is already being led by the national treasury, we are just providing technical assistance. Already the government was due to update its standard chart of accounts. So it was the right opportunity for us to plug in [and bring] a different perspective about what it would mean if they use it as an opportunity to demonstrate the country's investment in the Sustainable Development Goals.

And you know, the country should be able to report adequately to SDG indicator 5c1, to show how allocation and expenditure on gender equality and women’s empowerment are being done.

Broadly, it seems that financing the collection of gender data can be a challenge for many countries. How is Kenya managing the expense?

There's been just a lot of advocacy. Of course Women Count came in, there’s been a lot more awareness. A good example is the time-use survey. It’s going to cost around $600,000, and the national statistics office has actually committed $120,000 from government money. So that's a good demonstration of the commitment of the country in meeting its gender equality and women's empowerment obligations globally, regionally, and at the national level.

So I think there are [multiple] factors that have led to this: the advocacy, the goodwill by the government, and the leadership in the country, but also the [National Statistics Office] is committed because they're the ones that identified which SDG indicators we shall be reporting to in the next few years. So it's in their interest to demonstrate what effort is put forward. They should have the details available, so they're putting their money where their mouth is.

What lessons do you think other countries could learn from Kenya's journey to improve the collection and use of gender data so far?

I think one thing I would give Kenya credit for is coordination. For instance, Women Count is not seen as a separate, small donor project on the side, it’s seen as part of the gender statistics work that [KNBS] is doing anyway. Just having a robust plan on how that coordination is done, and what it's meant to achieve, is also critical. We have the council of governors as part of it … we have the right actors as part of it.

Another thing is leadership. I think we shouldn’t underestimate political will. Gender data is part of the national priorities within the [country’s] third medium-term plan. We're not doing anything outside the national agenda. So that becomes everybody's business, which has been a fundamental thing for us because then you're not seen to be working outside the realm of what is important for the government.

The last thing I would say also is just having multiple stakeholders. I think the work we’ve done on data use with the University of Nairobi has also propelled the possibilities of what data use could look like. We had a student grants program, where we were giving graduate students small grants to annotate their research proposals or their thesis using secondary data from the bureau. The bureau was impressed by what that piece of work has done for their data, to identify what challenges exist in the current datasets that they have.

Update, March 18, 2020: This article has been updated to clarify the spelling of the surname Gitonga.

Devex, with support from our partner UN Women, is exploring how data is being used to inform policy and advocacy to advance gender equality. Gender data is crucial to make every woman and girl count. Visit the Focus on: Gender Data page for more. Disclaimer: the views in this article do not necessarily represent the views of UN Women.

About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.