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Kenyan women eye bigger representation in Aug polls

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(Center) Woman representative for Uasin Gishu County Gladys Boss Shollei accompanied by Inua Mama members during a past conference. FILE PHOTO | NMG

It is not lost on us the long and tumultuous journey that women must endure to get the same level of participation, representation, and respect as their male counterparts.

The 2017 elections did represent a step forward for women’s representation, compared to the those of 2013.

More women won seats at all levels, except for the presidential race, which remained exclusively male.

Three women made history by winning the gubernatorial seat, another three won the senate seat while more women were elected to the national and county assemblies.

Twenty-three women were elected to the National Assembly in 2017, up from 16 in 2013. In the county assemblies, 96 women got in in 2017 compared to 82 in 2013.

While this was a cause for celebration, it was also a reminder of the long struggle women have endured and continue to endure and the need for civil society actors and others to continue holding space for women.

It is worth noting that women comprised just 9.2 percent of the 1,835 elected individuals in 2017, a marginal increase from 7.7 percent in 2013.

Firm foundation

Kenya’s legal framework lays a firm foundation for the principles of gender equity and equality in the country’s politics and government. Article 27 of the 2010 Constitution provides that no elective body shall have more than two-thirds of its members from the same gender.

This key provision is supported by other articles within the Constitution, upheld by legislation regulating elections and political parties, judicial decisions, and complemented by a body of international treaties and conventions.

Unfortunately, this critical legal standard of gender equity and equality has not been completely met. Parliament is yet to pass legislation that would bring its own two houses — the National Assembly and the Senate — in line with the Constitution’s “two-thirds rule.”

Amendments to the Elections Act and the Political Parties Act (PPA) have improved the regulatory environment but remain inadequate, lacking meaningful incentives and enforcement mechanisms.

Compliance among political parties and Parliament continues to be problematic, despite Supreme Court rulings directing the implementation of the two-thirds rule.

Consequently, although the 2017 elections were the second to be held since the passage of the Constitution, women still comprise less than 33 percent of Members of Parliament.

Former Chief Justice David Maraga, citing Article 261(7), advised the President in 2020 to dissolve Parliament for failing to enact legislation in accordance with Article 27 of the Constitution, which would address longstanding issues of gender discrimination and enhance the place of women in appointive and elective offices.

Political will

Looking into the 2022 elections and the future, we will need not only a conducive legal framework, but also genuine political will. We take note of recent developments on the political scene in Kenya, where both leading presidential candidates considered women for the running mate position.

Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga’s first female governor) and former Devolution Cabinet Secretary was considered as a possible candidate to deputise Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate, William Ruto. She emerged runners-up in the final decision.

Azimio la Umoja presidential candidate Raila Odinga considered Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege, Kitui’s first woman governor and former Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu and former Gichugu Member of Parliament Martha Karua.

Ms Karua ultimately emerged as the preferred running mate to Mr Odinga, another milestone on the road to a more equal society in political representation.

Women aspirants and candidates continue to face a hostile political environment, including propaganda, smear campaigns, and violence.

Many lack sufficient finances to run for office, yet still they do run, leveraging on their track record and connections in their communities.

We are particularly concerned about the vulnerability of women to violence and urge State actors that all necessary actions must be taken to safeguard the life of women.

Maintain vigilance

While we continue to call for more discipline within political parties, especially during campaigns, we also maintain that women and allies of women development and equality, must maintain vigilance during this electioneering period.

The increased number of women who have offered themselves to run either through political parties or as independent candidates is a testament that the time is ripe, and the people are ready to actualise the aspirations of Articles 27 and 100 of the Constitution.

Wakoli is founder and executive director, the Emerging Leaders Foundation Africa (ELF-Africa)