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Student research grants bolster gender analysis in Kenya
Noel Wanjia wants her research to change norms and promote free and safe spaces for women to speak out about their experiences. Photo: UN Women/Luke Horswell

When 30-year-old Nicole Wasuna began working on her Masters’ thesis on the portrayal of femicide in Kenyan media, she discovered how difficult it was going to be to find the data she needed, as national statistics did not report the gender of people killed, and what little data was available was very outdated. 

Then, earlier this year, the student of the Women, Leadership and Governance in Africa Programme at the University of Nairobi (UoN), was selected as one of 16 students to be awarded a research grant under the Women Count project in Kenya
“[The gender data research grant] made a huge difference,” says Wasuna, because obtaining data “costs money, in terms of transport and logistics and even facilitation, so having a little money goes a long way. …  It has also given me access to the actual people who deal with this data … to help me get data that has not been posted online or made available in their various libraries or archives.” 

So far, Wasuna’s research has found that in many cases of women killed by their husbands, there was a history of domestic violence. She hopes her research will help identify risk factors and influence policies or legislation to prevent femicide.

“One of the things we decided for this programme was not to produce research that sits pretty on a shelf,” explains Joy Kiiru, Senior Lecturer at UoN’s School of Economics and project coordinator for the student grant initiative of Kenya’s Women Count programme. “For research that has policy relevance, it is important that policymakers are part and parcel of the research process. If the State Department of Gender Affairs (SDGA) is involved and has an input into the research, they can better understand the method and the results produced.”

The student research grants seek to promote access to and use of gender statistics for analysis related to gender and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students were selected after a rigorous shortlisting process by UN Women, UoN, the SDGA and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). 

The grants are facilitating a body of socially transformative research on some of the most pressing issues for women and girls in Kenya: women’s autonomy in family planning, gender pay gaps, media reporting on femicide, women’s access to financial inclusion, and factors affecting reporting of sexual violence. 

Barnabas Abok, 35, has been analysing women’s autonomy in family planning. “Investing in family planning has effects towards meeting other SDGs. Previous studies have only focused on individual factors such as age, education, occupation, etc. Given that all individuals live in a community – is there something outside the above factors in the community affecting contraceptive use?”

Noel Wanjia, 26, has been investigating reporting of sexual violence in Nairobi County, and says “there are areas of data production that need to be addressed.”  She has found gaps in survey questions related to sexual violence, such as the definition of a ‘partner’.

Investigating the persistence of the gender pay gap, Jane Maina, 24, from UoN’s School of Economics says: “Although gaps in human capital factors, such as education and experience, have narrowed, what are the other factors causing the gender wage gap to be so huge?” 

The results of their research will be disseminated widely in forums such as the ICPD+25 Summit. At an ICPD+25 side event on “Gender Statistics as a Critical Agenda for Sustainable Development” to be held in Nairobi on 14 November, select students from the grants initiative will present their preliminary findings and generate policy discussion with policymakers and an audience of over 60 stakeholders. 

UN Women Programme Specialist for Gender Statistics, Maureen Gitonga, adds that the grants initiative is “demonstrating the link between data producers and data users. Specifically, KNBS in providing data for analysis, UoN for supervision of the research, and technical support in gender expertise from UN Women and SDGA.”

Jen Ross is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of UN experience, including with UN-ECLAC, OHCHR and UN Women.

Luke Horswell and Kennedy Okoth provided additional support.

Top photo: Noel Wanjia wants her research to change norms and promote free and safe spaces for women to speak out about their experiences. Credit: UN Women/Luke Horswell.

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