By: FATUMA MOHAMED
During his recent visit, President Barack Obama clearly stated that for any society to progress, women have to be at the centre of it.
For Kenyan women to play their role in development, four key issues — entrepreneurship, education, security and governance — need to be addressed.
Women must be given equal access to credit, markets and land.
It has been demonstrated that a woman’s ability to enjoy and exercise her human rights fundamentally depends on having her own income.
Yet the economic opportunities for many women are restricted.
Kenya is an agricultural country and the sector accounts for 60 per cent of farm-derived income, with women contributing 80 per cent of the labour requirements.
Yet, despite this significant contribution, only about five per cent of women hold property titles and an insignificant one per cent own agricultural land.
Without land title deeds to act as collateral, women have limited access to credit.
Though the national government has tried to address this credit access issue by stipulating that 30 per cent of government contracts are awarded to women and youth and by starting the Women Enterprise Fund, more needs to be done.
Discriminatory laws based on culture, such as the non-inheritance of land by women, need to be done away with.
Education can eliminate harmful traits of culture.
Over the last decade, Kenya has made significant progress in education, achieving gender parity in primary school enrolment and near parity at secondary level.
But concerns, such as more than half of secondary school-age girls not enrolled, persist.
One of the main reasons for this sorry state of affairs is the high level of poverty.
In the security sector, the war against violent extremism can only be won with the involvement of women.
Past efforts have left out women.
We shall not effectively counter radicalisation when half of our population is alienated.
Indeed, as Mr Obama said, it is stupid to go to war without half your army!
Women, for example, need to be more involved in the community policing programme.
Kenyan women have been left out of institutions of governance despite the fact that in 2000 the United Nations passed Resolution 1325, which calls for increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making.
It is not that women cannot make good leaders but socio-cultural attitudes continue to stereotype them as incapable of undertaking leadership roles.
Article 81 (b) of the Constitution states that not more than two-thirds of members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.
Despite this, Parliament has not achieved this requirement and is not even ready to put measures in place to achieve it despite a Supreme Court ruling to ensure its enactment by August 2015.
It is only when women have the freedom and capacity to reach their potential that Kenya will grow stronger.
This is a truth that our leaders do not need President Obama to remind them.