Women in Kenya have remained behind their male counterparts in many spheres, including access to information. This is besides the societal expectation of women’s roles as caretakers, educators, health providers, farmers, and as part of the labour market, inclusive of the informal sector.

Unempowered women are unable to fully participate in socioeconomic activities and fully take advantage of public facilities such as healthcare (inclusive of family planning), education, loans, security, subsidized farm inputs etc.

The right to access to information promotes good governance as it enables citizens to understand policies; it allows citizens to determine public priorities from an informed position; and allows all citizens to use information to ensure the exercise of their other human rights, including the rights to health, education, employment, and a safe environment. Even the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) recognize the importance with target 16.10, which aims to: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. These rights are the same for both men and women, however, in practice, the most vulnerable and marginalized populations are left behind, and this is particularly true for women.

When a woman does not have full access to public information, limited information inhibits their contribution in public participation; ability to hold government accountable; ability to make maternal health decisions; child nutrition decisions; and all other areas that require informed consent and decision-making.

As the momentum for the inclusion of women is at a high, with various strategies being implemented to address the web of adversities they face such as: poverty, illiteracy, violence, and inadequate opportunities for quality participation, the power that information plays should not be forgotten. A report by International Finance Corporation states that: “when women face disproportionate constraints in access to information…versus their male counterparts…their productivity will be limited and their long-run prospects for economic growth will be adversely affected.”

Women account for 50% of the world’s population, but generate 37% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [i], reflecting that they do not have equal access to opportunities when compared to their male counterparts. In developing countries such as Kenya, the exclusion of women in the socioeconomic environment is not surprising. Women continue to form the poorest proportion of the population (see figure.3 below), yet they account for 48% of micro, small, and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs), which contributes approximately 20% to Kenya’s GDP [ii].


Source: KNBS, 2015/16 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey

With 85% of women businesses in the informal sector, where 83.4% of total employment was created in 2017 [iii], it is imperative that access to information is extended to women so that they can take advantage of opportunities and make informed decisions that affection their socio-economic status in society.

One of Kenya Vision 2030 goals is to improve public service delivery using Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This initiative follows the evolution into E-government systems (the use of electronic communications devices: computers, mobile phones and the Internet), which aims to enhance access to public information and/or services. However, some Kenyan citizens, especially women, are still not be able to access  these new forms of digital interactions as their access to electronic communication devices and internet is low.

From the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey (KIHBS) 2015/16 study, male-headed households had a higher ownership of mobile phones (83.8%) than female-headed households (72.6%). Similarly, the male-headed households had greater access to internet (24.7%) when compared to female-headed households (17.2%).

Figure.2 Access to Mobile Phone and Internet Access by Gender of Head of Household

Source: KNBS, 2015/16 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey

Reflecting on the recent growth in the mobile industry, there has been a significant increase in digital inclusion in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The mobile platform has become a dominant tool for delivering life-enhancing information, services and opportunities. Based on a The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019, 1.7 billion women now own a mobile phone in LMICs and over a billion use mobile internet. However, marginalized groups in the rural areas, the illiterate and the elderly, who are predominantly female, still lack access to mobile phone and mobile internet.

Source: GSMA, The Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2019

According to the GSMA report, in Kenya, there are more male mobile owners and mobile internet users when compared to women. Additionally, men were found to be more aware of mobile internet. Despite women having less ownership, access and awareness of the mobile internet, they were found to use their mobile phones more than men on a weekly basis (see figure.3).

Over the last decade, there has been growing demand for open government; calling for high levels of transparency, with an emphasis on government accountability. This process includes mechanisms for public scrutiny and oversight bodies in place. Open Government emphasizes citizens’ rights to access documents and proceedings of the government, to allow for effective public participation and oversight. In Kenya, the Constitution (2010) has enshrined these rights under the ‘Rights and fundamental freedoms’ section, Article 35  ‘Access to Information’, which is enhanced by various articles on ‘Public participation’, and articles on ‘National Values and Principles of Governance’.

Access to information has been a long-term aspiration globally as evidenced in  Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which recognizes access to information as a fundamental human right and a multi-dimensional tool that serves both citizens and governments. Since 1948 to date, there has been significant global progress on access to information. These efforts can be attributed to the expansion of laws and practices, with nearly 120 countries (Transparency International) having adopted comprehensive right to information (RTI) laws. The East African Community (EAC) has lagged in the enactment of ATI laws by 57 years, with Uganda being the first to pass the ‘Access to Information’ (ATI) law in 2005, followed by Rwanda and South Sudan in 2013, and Kenya and Tanzania in 2016; while Burundi has not enacted this law.

In the EAC region, the purpose of the ATI laws are quite similar; they all endeavor to: promote efficient, effective, transparent and accountable governance in the respective EAC member states.  Interestingly, Rwanda and Tanzania are the only countries in EAC that extend the rights to information to non-citizens.

Considering that informal cross-border trade (ICBT) is pervasive in the EAC, and that women have been at the forefront of it [iv], Kenya should further empower women in the region by extending the ATI laws to non-citizens to enhance their economic participation. The importance of ICBT in Kenya is reinforced by the enactment of the East Africa Cross Border Trade Guidelines, which aims to improve cross-border trade especially among women from the member states as the “lack of clear and accessible information is more acute among women entrepreneurs as communication channels and means have not necessarily been developed along their needs” [v]. Therefore, the guidelines provide information on existing policies, procedures, tariffs, exemptions and facilities available to cross-border traders. Moreover, it intends to address information gaps and numerous challenges faced by women that deny them opportunities to trade freely.

To assess the progress being made by these laws, the Global Right to Information Rating index comparatively assesses the strength of legal frameworks for the right to information from around the world. The methodology asses a broad range of indicators and measures how well the legal framework of a country delivers the Indicator. Kenya first adopted the Right to Information Rating index in 2016, ranking 20/123 globally. This index involves 7 main categories where Kenya shows mixed performance under: Right of Access (6); Scope (30); Requesting procedures (30); Exceptions & refusal (30); Appeals (30); Sanctions & protections (8); and, Promotional measures (16).

Source: Right to Information Rating

In the EAC, South Sudan scored the highest score of 120/150, followed by Kenya 113/150, then Uganda with 97/150, Rwanda 85/150 and Tanzania with the lowest score of 73/150.

  • Under the ‘Right of access’ category Uganda and South Sudan scored 6/6, while Kenya scored 4/6, followed by the lowest Tanzania (3/6) and Rwanda (2/6).
  • Under ‘Scope’, Rwanda was the highest scoring 30/30, followed by Kenya with 29/30. South (27/30) and Uganda (26/30) followed closely scoring above 25/30, while Tanzania lags with 19/30.
  • Under ‘Requesting Procedures’, Uganda led with a score of 21/30, followed by Kenya with 19/30. Rwanda (18/30) and South Sudan (16/30), and Tanzania (16/30) was the lowest.
  • Under ‘Exceptions & Refusals’, South Sudan was the highest scoring 26/30, followed by Uganda with 22/30. Tanzania and Rwanda tied with a score of 21/30, and Kenya was the lowest scoring 19/30.
  • Under ‘Appeals’, Kenya was the highest scoring 24/30, followed by South Sudan with 22/30. Uganda (11/30) and Rwanda (10/30) followed although scoring lower than half the points. Tanzania was the lowest with a score of 7/30.
  • Under ‘Sanctions & Protections’, South Sudan was the highest with a perfect score 8/8, followed by Kenya and Uganda both scoring 6/8. Tanzania followed closely scoring 5/8, and Rwanda lags with and extremely low score of 1/8.
  • Under ‘Promotional Measures’, South Sudan was the highest scoring 15/16, followed by Kenya with a score of 12/16. Uganda followed although scoring lower than a third 5/16, while Rwanda and Tanzania tied with the lowest score of 3/16.

Figure 5. Enforcement Progress on Right to Information in East African Community (EAC)

Source: Right to Information Rating

Despite the progress in ATI laws in the EAC, compliance still remains a challenge in some areas as shown above in figure.5. As Kenya continues to participate in the Right to Information Rating, its performance over time will be able to bring out gaps that need to be further scrutinized.


One of the key obstacles to good governance is an asymmetry in information between public officials and the public. Access to public information is not only a fundamental human right that is intrinsically linked to good governance, but it is also an enabler to achieving Kenya Vision 2030 and the SDGs as a whole.

Based on the KIHBS 2015/16 survey and the GSMA report 2019, combined with the expansion digital inclusion (inclusive of e-government), there is an opportunity for Kenya to leverage on mobile phone internet to delivery vital information, especially to women who are lagging behind. Kenya can enhance women’s socio-economic participation by strengthening their access to information in Kenya and within the EAC region.

Kenya’s Access to information Act (2016) should be expanded to include access by non-citizens as this will streamline its current laws to those of the EAC countries (Rwanda and Tanzania). This move will foster continued cross-border information trade, which will enhance East African Community integration, and empower the informal cross-border trading sector where women dominate.

Author: Shelvin Mairura – Governance Department, Young Professional

[i] Accelerating gender parity: What can governments do? https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-sector/our-insights/accelerating-gender-parity-what-can-governments-do

[ii] International Finance Corporation – Voices of Women Entrepreneurs in Kenya – https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/e00d6c0048855a36857cd76a6515bb18/Voices+of+Women+Entrepreneurs+in+Kenya.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

[iii] Economic Survey 2018 – https://www.knbs.or.ke/download/economic-survey-2018/

[iv]Women Informal Cross Border Traders: Opportunities and Challenges in the East African Community – https://www.eassi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Women-Informal-Cross-Border-Traders-Opportunities-and-Challenges-in-the-EAC-Action-research-2012.pdf

[v] A Simplified Guide for Micro and Small-Scale Women Cross Border Traders and Service Providers within the East African Community (EAC) – http://meac.go.ke/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/EAC-Book-2.pdf

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