Inequality crisis in Kenya and around the world; the fight for our lives

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Activists protest against inequality in Kenya

On Tuesday 21 January 2020, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Nairobi Office in collaboration with Fight Inequality Alliance Kenya (FIA) held a Gender Forum in Nairobi on the Inequality crisis in Kenya and around the world.

The gender forum preceded a peaceful march dubbed ‘Usawa’- a Swahili word meaning ‘equality,’ that saw hundreds of participants from across the country join hands with Fight Inequality Alliance Kenya, to demand the president tackle inequality problems affecting the country. The protestors demanded that the president equally allocate national resources to protect Kenyans from effects of climate change, end harmful tax incentives for the rich and reschedule debt to boost spending in basic public services as well as negotiate concessions from China.

The gender forum discussed the state of inequality in Kenya and around the world and offered insights on the collective action that could end inequality.Inequality is the unfair situation in society whereby some people have more opportunities, money, and resources than other individuals in the same environment. Globally, the levels of inequality within and between countries have risen as much as the broadened gap between the haves and the have nots. Inequality mostly emerges from structural issues, centered on capitalism where the economy and the political system is controlled by a few individuals who are mostly men. 

Recent statistics from an Oxfam Inequality Report shows that billionaires have doubled in the past decade and have more wealth than 4.6 billion people in the world. The report further shows that the world’s 22 richest men have more wealth than all women in Africa.  Inequality starts in personal spaces and homes which have engraved retrogressive cultural practices that exalt patriarchy, these spaces structurally and hierarchically exclude women and other identity groups. Inequality has a face and a history: some groups have been systematically held back over centuries, while others have held the majority of power and assets. Over time, the fight for equality has been left to activists, feminists and civil society organisations working tirelessly to create a cohesive space where resources, opportunities and money is equally distributed amongst all people in a society.

Most states verbally acknowledge the efforts but are yet to put in measures that allow for equality. Policy-makers are clamoring for a set of policy options that can arrest and reverse this trend, nationally and internationally we are not short of policy recommendations, the challenge arises in translating the policy documents into practice. In the challenge paper for inequality and exclusion Pathfinders noted that anger over inequality is not spurred only by stagnation or uncertainty for the poor and middle class, but also by the contrast with rapidly rising incomes–and privileges–for the rich. Over the past 25 years there has been a slow but steady movement of worldwide social opinion toward making incomes more equal. People’s anger erupts when there is a situation that can serve as a lightning rod for their frustration. Corruption, a significant contributor to economic inequalities, can be such a lightning rod: most political mobilization is related to corruption whose consequence is a growing inequality. Alongside tangible inequalities, lack of respect by elites for the poor and for historically disadvantaged groups plays a strong role in fueling grievances.

The gender forum recommended that governments should work to build national care systems, provide free public services and increase taxes on the wealthy.  Governments should limit the influence of corporations and the rich. The panelists in the forum also recommended the need to challenge power to transform systems by raising awareness and vouching for more engagement and creation of networks to unpack and unlearn the cultural perspectives that shape inequality.

The forum presented an opportunity to build a narrative around inclusion of girls and women at the national, regional and global levels. It presented an opportunity for Kenyans to reimagine the future of the country and its place in the world.

The Gender Forum is a public dialogue convened by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung since 2001, the forum encourages dialogue on pertinent national issues with a gendered lens and allows for a gendered analysis of policy and programmes. It brings together scholars, lawmakers and implementers, rights activists, government institutions, students among others.