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MAKAU: Kenya needs equality for women in politics

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Saturday, March 12th, 2016
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“In politics, women type the letters, lick the stamps, distribute the pamphlets and get out the vote. Men get elected.”

The quote above captures Clare Booth Luce’s perspective on women’s political participation in the United States of America. It represents a similar trend in Kenya’s political sphere.

For years, Kenyan women – including those working at international organisations such as Equality Now – have shaped the country’s political terrain at the national, county and community levels. They have made significant contributions in crafting and zealously executing political party strategies, particularly with regards to grassroots mobilisation.

However, when it comes to elective office, their numbers remain low. For instance, at the national assembly, 20 percent or 68 of 337 elected members of parliament are women.  In the Senate, there are no elected women senators, instead there are 18 women, nominated by political parties in line with Article 98 (c), (d) and (e) of Kenya’s Constitution, 2010.

These appalling numbers have been attributed to a combination of socio-cultural, economic and legal obstacles embedded in patriarchal norms linked to low access to education, limited economic opportunities, the structuring of political and electoral processes and until the promulgation of the current Constitution, often affirmed by law.

The two third gender rule outlined in Articles 27(8) and 81(b) of the Constitution was widely celebrated as a positive step in the promotion of women’s participation in elective politics.

While its implementation has been more straightforward at county level, discourse on the same at the National Assembly has been fraught with controversy.

Almost immediately after the Constitution was promulgated and with the 2013 election looming, the country started to grapple with the actual implementation of the rule. Several formulae were tabled for discussion by various actors. Suggestions made included allocating all the 80 new constituencies (increased from 210 to 290) within the National Assembly to women, reviewing the constituencies and increasing the numbers and amending the constitution. With no agreement in sight, stakeholders including key women’s rights groups moved to court.

The Supreme Court in its Advisory Opinion No. 2 of 2012, indicated that the rule would be impractical to implement before the 2013 election.

It recommended that the legislature formulate measures for progressive implementation, with a view to ensuring the rule’s full realisation, in law, by August 28, 2015.

Despite advocacy by stakeholders for the need to move with speed, the process was beleaguered by unnecessary delays.

When the discussion was eventually picked up in earnest by the legislature in 2015, a bill calling for the indefinite suspension of the rule emerged!

It is now March 2016. The 2017 election beckons. News of a compromise bill to amend relevant legislation to ensure the rule is achieved has just been made public.  As noted by David Mwere of The Star in an article published on 4th March 2016, the Bill suggests that ‘if the number of elected women do not meet the constitutional threshold, then the number will be bridged by selecting additional women according to party lists.’   Furthermore, ‘if passed, the Bill will be in force for 20 years, after the second election of its passage.’

It remains to be seen if Bill will be passed, assented to and implemented in a timely and effective manner.

Given the furore on the two-thirds gender rule so far, it is easy just to focus on the numbers. As we reflect on the theme of International Women’s Day 2016 – #PledgeforParity, state and non-state actors must work together. They must do so to ensure that the systemic discrimination embedded in patriarchal norms that has relegated women to the back burner in elective politics save for when it is convenient for the current political players is effectively dealt with.

This is so that women not only have the numbers and/ or the backing to access elective office, but are in a position to set the agenda once there and remain accountable to the constituencies that chose them, within the confines of the rule of law.


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