A careful undertaking to ascertain the status of women in Kenya must necessarily begin with an introduction to the several systems of law co-existent in Kenya today and their effect on the status of women. Kenya, like other former British colonial possessions, has several different systems of laws regulating various aspects of life. Dependent upon the aspect of life at issue (marriage, divorce, etc.), the applicable law may differ. There exist today four different legal systems governing the lives of men and women in Kenya. The multiplicity and overlap of the four different legal systems complicate the task of ascertaining the precise status of women in Kenya.
The systems of law existing in Kenya today are as follows: first, there is the imported law which Kenya inherited as an English colony -- such is statutory law; second is the customary (tribal) law which regulates the lives of the various ethnic groups where no legislation has altered or displaced such; and finally, there are the religious laws, primarily Hindu and Islamic. 1 Often the customary or religious laws have been eliminated in attempts to make the law on a particular subject uniform, as in the areas of devolution of property. But the uniformity may apply only to restricted elements of such areas of law, leaving particular topics to the prior law of the different ethnic groups.
A further difficulty in analyzing the situation for women in Kenya today lies in separating the Kenyan cultural traits from those left from the colonial period. As discussed below, many areas regulated by laws "left-over" from the colonial period necessarily reflect the Victorian values of the England of that time. Though Kenya achieved independence in 1963, the Kenyan laws reflective of English legislation remain very much intact in areas such as marriage, divorce, abortion, and employment.
The primary consideration of this case study is an overview of the legal and social status of women in Kenya. Rather than a complete study of every law of every ethnic group, the author will try to give the reader a general understanding of the four major systems of laws in Kenya today in the following areas: marriage, divorce, child custody, property ownership, inheritance rights, employment, political rights, and personal autonomy.
Within marriage, the woman is the humble party -- the marriage has been arranged by, and continues to be, a relationship between the families of the