By Ruth Owino

Increased access by women to justice, property rights and top jobs has seen Kenya emerge as the leading reformer globally; this is according to a report released by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation. The report votes Kenya as the best country in the world for passing laws that enable women to conduct business during the last two years. According to the report, women in Kenya were greatly empowered by the new Constitution as well as other legal reforms that have been taking place in recent years. “Kenya has achieved a lot in gender parity because of the new Constitution which is now being studied by many countries in the world that want to carry out reforms,” said David Bridgman, regional manager for Investment Climate Advisory services in Africa at the World Bank.

The report titled Women, Business and the Law 2012: Removing Barriers to Inclusion showed that, economies that have greater differentiation between men and women have, on average, lower female participation in the formal labour force. The women labour participation was found to be 78 per cent, which was higher than in some developed countries such as South Korea where it is 55 per cent. The report noted that women could not get a job without husband’s consent in countries like Kuwait and Oman. Out of the 35 countries covered in sub-Saharan Africa, only 10 – Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, Burkina Faso – have no legal differentiation regarding the use of property and basic legal transactions such as signing of a contract or getting a passport. “You will realize that the reforms are also reflected in Kenya’s improvement seen in the Mo Ibrahim index,” said Mr Bridgman.

According to the report, Kenya’s economy was with the highest number of reforms in the areas covered in Women, Business and the Law. The report commends Kenya for passing laws that enable women access financial institutions, matrimonial and family property more easily. Noting the changes in the legal reforms that have eliminated gender differentiation under the law relating to a woman’s ability to pass her nationality to her child or spouse, entitling every Kenyan to a passport and all registration or identity documents issued to citizens, and guarantees freedom of movement into, out of and within Kenya for all citizens. However, the report faults Zambia for retaining customary laws or personal laws that discriminate against women. It also gives the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo where married women need the consent of their husbands to lodge any case in court.

Kenya climbed four places to position 23 in the Mo Ibrahim index of governance that assessed 53 countries on the basis of providing economic opportunities for citizens, safety, human rights and development. Kenya’s highest points in the ranking were in rural development and gender parity. The World Bank report said 36 out of 141 economies globally removed legal differences between men and women. The report also identifies 41 legal and regulatory reforms enacted between June 2009 and March 2012 that could enhance women’s economic opportunities. Legal reforms enacted in Kenya recently have given women rights to confer nationality to their children and spouses, to registration documents and freedom of movement.

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