It’s a man’s man’s man’s world, so goes one popular song by the Godfather of Soul James Brown released in 1966.
Decades before the hit song, which was widely criticised as chauvinistic, Edward Bernays – a pioneer in public relations and propaganda – had in 1929 sought to change the narrative that categorised women as the “weaker sex.”
Back then, women were not allowed to smoke, at least in public.
But George Washington Hill, the President of the American Tobacco Company, was eager to crack this untapped market of the female population. So Hill hired Bernays and the father of public relations, as he is known among PR and communication scholars, staged a protest known as “torches of freedom.”
Bernays hired women to march as they smoked. And as the women coughed out billows of smoke, the first wave of feminism was born and Bernays collected his cheque.
Ninety years on, women around the world, including Kenya, are turning the tide as they make their mark in a man’s world if the latest employment data is anything to go by.
According to the 2019 census data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), women in 32 counties in the country outnumber men as breadwinners. While such progress may rub male chauvinists the wrong way, Kennedy Odhiambo, an advocate in the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet) says it is a wake-up call. “Today’s man is in conflict with himself because the reality is now dawning that women can also be breadwinners. What is important is for men to begin to acknowledge that they are not necessarily the breadwinners in their homes and start unlearning those beliefs. If your wife earns more than you, then it is a source of value but traditionally, it was a cause of conflict,” he said.
According to the 2019 census, out of 41.2 million Kenyans aged five years and above, 19.7 million were working.
Of these, 9,886,838 were women against 9,789,958 men. Out of the 47 counties, only 15 had males leading among the working population. Most of the counties with huge differences between the male and female working population were in the Western and Nyanza regions.
Kakamega led with 63,898 more women working than men followed by Kisii (49,702); Homabay (48,639); Bungoma (46,744) and Siaya (44,673 in Siaya.
Other counties in the two regions are Migori (36,046), Nyamira(22,716), Vihiga(21,385), Kisumu(12,393), and Busia(33,904). In Kakamega, the census data showed that out of the 1,635,814 people categorised as “working,” 400,244 were female compared to 336,346 males.
The county also had more females waiting to be absorbed into the workforce at 434,612 against 414,865 males.
In Kisii, the total population in the labour force as of 2019 stood at 1,117,320, with 507,691 categorised as working.
Of these, 228,989 were males, while 278,691 were females. Similarly, there were fewer female job seekers (16,874) compared to males (24,387).
However, the county had more females waiting to join the labour force (291,249) compared to males (276,958).
In Homa Bay County, the number of the working female population stood at 233,878 compared with 185,239 males.
There were also fewer jobless females in the county at 12,739 compared to 14,683 males. Lamu, Taita Taveta and Garissa are among the counties that have more working males. The working population of male visa vie female in Garissa is 126,756 against 98,256; while in Taita Taveta 62,838 against 60,195 and 26,906 visa vie 20,535 in Lamu. This was, however, not the case 22 years ago. The 1999 census indicated that there were 6,375,496 active males in the labour force compared to 6,020,107 females in the age category of 15-64 years. Caroline Gacheri, a clinical psychologist and an advocate of family planning, lists contraceptives as one of the defining factors that have helped in balancing the scale between how the two genders economically.
“If you have one or two children, you will be in a position to go to school because you can double task without thinking that you have so many children who are looking up to me,” she said.