Kenya and Canada share an identity when it comes to gender equality. They are among the few countries that adopted gender responsive measures in the fight against Covid-19.
On one hand, Kenya invested in investigating the cause of rise in teenage pregnancies and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and established a multi-agency team to tackle the problem.
Canada on its part, invested $100 million to support indigenous women and children experiencing violence and financed women’s shelters, sexual assault centres and other organisations providing SGBV services.
As the world shifts focus to redeeming the lost gains and building stronger economies of economically, politically, culturally and socially stable women and girls, we speak with Canadian High Commission to Kenya, Ms Lisa Stadelbauer to pick her mind on the way forward.
Studies have shown women-led countries outperformed men’s in Covid-19 response, what does this mean?
That is interesting and it is a moment in time we need to sit down and think why it is the case. One theory that has been put forward is that men are risk enthusiasts. And so countries that took a more cautious approach tend to have come out of the pandemic a little better. Women also tend to lead from a place of empathy and compassion. They put people first and that seems to be the approach that delivered better outcomes.
The other thing about women is “what does it mean for women and girls?” In my own country, we have 10 provinces and three territories, and each has a chief public health officer. Canada too as a whole, has a chief public health officer. Of those 14 positions, seven are held by women and you can imagine the impact this has had for girls. It is quite powerful in terms of modelling and mentoring the future generation.
The pandemic has negatively impacted the quest for gender equality globally. What needs to happen to achieve an equal future?
In Canada, we have recognised that gender equality is essential for any country to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and so we are putting women at the heart of everything we do at the domestic and international development assistance level. We now do gender-based budgeting and develop policies through gender lens.
What examples of changes in the lives of Kenyans are memorable to you?
A few years ago, we renewed our Feminist International Assistance Policy with TradeMark East Africa to boost cross border trade among women traders. So, at the Busia One Stop Border Post, they established an office for women to get access to information on the legal manner of conducting businesses. They also increased the lighting to make it safer for them to do business at night. Last year, before the outbreak of Covid-19, I visited the women. During the interactive session, I remember one woman telling me the project has enabled her transform from a smuggler to a trader. And that to me, was really powerful
What is the practical solution increasing financial allocation or assistance to gender equality interventions?
It is not always about the money. It is about societal and attitude change. And that comes with time. Canada has been working in this gender space for decades. We are one of the first donors to focus on gender equality and what shifted for us is that we are no longer looking to mainstream gender as part of every project, but make sure our projects are focused on gender. We are really on the specificity and not gender equality as an add-on. We are being more deliberate in our actions and funding. For the government, it means adding budget lines and not just doing the talk. For Kenya for example, the 30 per cent gender rule in Parliament is not about money, it is about political will.
What is your message of hope for women and girls across the world?
Things are changing. When you see women in senior positions that gives a clear message to the world that things are changing. In my own country, half of our ambassadors are women, that’s change.