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Women Making Gains in Kenyan Manufacturing

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Kenyan Women Dominate Top Manufacturing Jobs
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Kenyan Women Dominate Top Manufacturing Jobs

A report on Kenyan manufacturing shows that while women have made advances in the East African country's top mechanized workplaces, men still own most formal businesses and hold better-paying jobs.

The report, prepared for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers by the International Center for Research on Women, found that women accounted for 17% of the formal manufacturing sector in 2019, up 1% from the previous year.

Researchers found that most female-owned manufacturing operations “are micro, small and medium enterprises” operating in the informal sector.

Easter Kojwang runs a registered manufacturing firm: Eastnat Foods Ltd., a natural-foods packaging company in Nairobi. It has grown by leaps and bounds since she started it five years ago.

She and other women are leaders in Kenyan manufacturing, but Kojwang says it still can be difficult to deal with men in the industry.

"For example, you want to supply your honey to a big company and the procurement manager might be a man, who might want more from you than you are willing to, you know, willing to give," Kojwang said. "You just want to do clean business."

Ownership still mostly male

Female owners like Kojwang are still a minority, with men owning 73% percent of Kenya’s formal factories. Men have most of the jobs with such manufacturers, which tend to be larger and pay better.

Cleopatra Mugyeni, who directs the ICRW’s Africa regional office and co-wrote the report released last fall, said women are moving into manufacturing jobs “because they see it as a lucrative sector. It’s a sector that has opportunities. But we have to understand that even though we are having more women go into manufacturing, most of their jobs and most of their businesses are actually informal.”

But women’s status is improving. The research sampling of formal and informal factories indicated that 89% of male-owned factories have women in senior management.

“What this demonstrates is that when you have also boards and leaders who support the growth of women in the manufacturing sector, you tend to see policies put in place that mainstream gender into the boardroom,” said Phyllis Wakiaga, the manufacturing association's chief executive officer.

"What this leads to is that more women are able to rise to top leadership positions."

Particular skills

Mugyenyi said companies that have more women are better able to attract and retain talent and to gauge consumer interest and demand.

To help level the playing field, Kenyan authorities say they are helping to fund female manufacturers.

"We have various programs and projects to support women manufacturers," said Lawrence Karanja, chief administration secretary with Kenya’s Ministry of Industrialization.

He said a women’s enterprise fund makes loans available. Karanja said the ministry also has partnered with other institutions — “for instance, micro and small enterprise authority, we give funds to women."

That gives Kenya’s female manufacturing leaders more hope for an economically just future in the industry.

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