How many wives can some extra coffee buy?

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When seen from a gender perspective, private sector development issues can reveal some harsh realities.

“Why should we take time away from producing food for our families to earn extra cash so our husbands can buy another wife?”, reported one woman coffee picker during a research project we conducted in Kenya.

That's because, while women provide the majority of agricultural labor in Kenya, remuneration often goes directly to their husbands. Indeed, during a recent visit to DC, David Nalo, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary of Trade, recognised that gender equality is a serious economic issue in his country. Under the current Constitution, custom law overrides the principle of equality with the result that while women are 48% of SME owners they own only 1% of land in their own names and around 5% is jointly held. Add to that a largely collateral based banking system that creates major issues for women needing to access loans to grow their businesses.

Inequality of revenues distribution may also produce suboptimal development outcomes: a growing body of research indicates that additional income in the hands of women is more likely to result in improved family welfare, nutrition and higher education levels for girls.

So, what can the development community do to tackle this issue? In the case of Kenya, we put forward some ideas, but we are keen to get input from others who have an interest in promoting gender equality to foster economic growth.

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