Gender mainstreaming is a vital precondition of gender equality. Early Childhood Development in Emergencies (ECDiE)1 programming requires an approach that ensures that girls and boys have equal access to services across all developmental areas and are empowered equally in and through the early childhood development process. As gender equality is intricately linked to promoting the rights to education, protection, health, and supporting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), gender consciousness is crucial. It becomes a benchmark to successful early childhood development programming during emergencies.
Although both boys and girls can now almost enjoy equal rights2 , gender inequality still remains a pertinent issue for hundreds of refugee children who spend their early childhood in Kenya’s refugee camps. Conflict and displacement have caused a precarious family existence and directly contributed to the disenfranchisement of these children’s rights. Survival becomes the primary objective for these families.
The following 4 gaps need to be addressed to reduce children gender inequalities in refugee camps:
Gender largely controls how men and women prioritise their needs. When gender-power struggles are combined with constrained resources, women decision-making is largely inhibited. This in turn affects children during early years who can’t reach key developmental milestones and are not provided with basic needs. The differences and inequalities between boys and girls in roles assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, and decision-making opportunities places gender in the nexus of this struggle. Addressing the practical gender needs of girls during their early developmental years is essential and requires strategic resources and deliberate interventions. Similarly, women and children needs (such as childhood inoculation and maternal healthcare for new mothers) call for priority attention from duty bearers when allocating vital resources.
There are notable gains in mainstreaming gender issues into early childhood education in Kenya. However, policies should be more harmonised and inclusive, considering diverse backgrounds of Kenyan children and the disparity in essential needs. Without proper planning and design, early childhood education can be exclusive, unresponsive to contextual and time specific gender needs, perpetuating the same inequalities that it is intended to address. Such policy gaps on inclusion pose frightening prospects for refugee children, especially girls within the preschool going age. This gap could be filled with a bottom up and inclusive policy approach with long-term goals and thinking.
Gender data gaps
In emergency contexts, full participation in a quality education cycle is advocated as a meaningful protection tool. Consequently, regular data such as pre-primary enrolment, retention and completion rates for girls and boys is important. Quality data helps to fully monitor performance, evaluate programmes and services, and support evidence-based decision-making. However, data collection and dissemination are a major challenge in the early childhood education sector. The data approach should be gender responsive and streamline the processes for collecting, managing, and reporting on ECDiE data. A sector wide approach to data with a centralised tracking system is vital. For example, it would consolidate an equally accessible Early Childhood Development (ECD) database for each child in the country.
Protection system gaps
3 out of 5 refugee women in Kenya express protection concerns linked to harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, and domestic violence. This is seen more strongly among urban Somali refugee women living in a strong patriarchal culture with prejudiced religious teachings. Hence, women from this community are bound by fear of alienation and lack any possible escape. This patriarchal culture denies them a voice, autonomy in decision-making (reproductive health, children’s early lives) and access to resources. Strong protection policies and a paradigm shift in gender programming would ensure Somali children thrive during their early childhood years and grow up to build meaningful lives during emergencies.
By addressing the ECD gaps in gender mainstreaming strategies, we can reduce children gender inequalities in the conflict situation in Kenya. Gender issues should be integrated into the process of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, programs, and activities across all sectors of ECDiE. To achieve this, we need a solid and participatory gender analysis of all children targeted under development activities in emergency situations.
MERCY MULANGA, DPP’18
Cofounder, Action for Women and Girls Network, Kenya.