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By Jacqueline Muturi

Youth empowerment programs have become popular government responses to youth violence across the world. This popularity stems from the notion that unemployed youth are a security threat in the societies they inhabit especially in the global south where according to studies, the majority of the perpetrators of political and criminal violence, are the youth especially those who live in informal settlements. With this in mind, the Kenyan government has come up with a number of policy frameworks, and programs such as the Kenya Youth Empowerment Program (KYEOP) to empower the youth and deter them from crime.

During the Youth Empowerment Program and Prevention of Violence policy workshop convened by The Center for Human Rights and Policy Studies (CHRIPS) and the National Crime Research Center (NCRC), participants held in-depth discussions on the progress of youth empowerment in Kenya and the successes and challenges of running youth programs in the county and national level. Many of the participants such as The Kenya School of Government, The National Youth Service as well as The Youth Congress claimed that their youth empowerment programs were gender inclusive, however, many of the participants confused gender representation with gender inclusivity. 

This is an issue that many policy makers often have in Kenya when designing programs that benefit society. They tend to put much focus on whether both genders are represented and ignore gender norms and power relations especially as they seek to achieve some of their objectives.  The effect of community, gender perceptions, social mores as well as collective safety is ignored and this could result in gender exclusion.

Gender inclusivity is highly integral to the success of any youth empowerment program and therefore, there is a need to take into consideration specific issues that may play a role in disproportionately limiting the participation of women in these programs. During the KYEOP study conducted by CHRIPS, female participants shared challenges they faced during the program. One was the factor of time and energy constraints as they had household obligations as well as caregiving responsibilities which would clash with the program schedule.

Gender sensitivity and gender inclusivity go hand in hand. Because men and women experience issues differently and also utilize resources differently, the socio-economic-political environment will therefore impact them differently. A gender sensitive and inclusive program recognizes the different roles that both genders have within the society as well as acknowledge the unequal power relations that women face in society. In addition, it recognizes the various ways in which both genders experience violence.

To integrate a gender perspective in the program design process, it requires that a proper gender analysis is conducted as it is the foundation upon which gender sensitivity is realised. There are many things that could be systematically examined; the different norms and roles that females and males have, the different levels of power they have in the society; the diverse needs, opportunities and constraints that both genders have, and how they impact their lives. This form of information helps to determine different strategies that can be adopted to address inequalities in the social and the consequences of these strategies.

Inclusion of both males and females in the planning process is crucial, as it prevents instances in which male experiences and beliefs inform programs in terms of structure and implementation. Considering that both men and women interact with their communities differently, their experiences will differ and therefore, it is important to consider both as important stakeholders in the community especially where violence is concerned.  Considering that youth empowerment programs are considered as a potential solution to violence eradication, it is crucial that policy makers anticipate how these programs will affect both genders. In addition, the interventions adopted should work towards overcoming cultural constraints that often restrict women’s participation.

Monitoring and evaluation of youth empowerment programs are crucial as it examines whether the project is meeting some of its specific targets and objectives. Gender mainstreaming is an important step in developing a gender sensitive monitoring and evaluation system. This approach could aid in observations on how the output of the program benefits both genders, by addressing the various constraints and capabilities men and women face. It could eventually aid in developing corrective solutions to address societal inequalities.

Overall, whether youth empowerment projects seek to address issues on gender or not, it is crucial that gender dynamics are taken into consideration, understanding the socio-cultural dynamic context in which both men and women encompass, will determine the most effective approaches to combating issues such as violence reduction and promotion of youth empowerment in the country.

Jacqueline Muturi is a research intern at the Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies. This opinion piece was published in the Standard newspaper, December 2021.

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