By Nduta Waweru
Kenya adopted a new Constitution in 2010, which came with a provision for greater gender representation in political offices. Article 81 (b) states:“Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender”.
However, this provision was not implemented in the previous Parliament. With the new Parliament sitting for the first time in less than seven days, the issue of gender representation has not been resolved. Already, Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) headed to court to stop the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) from presenting the names of elected legislators for swearing in over the failure to meet the 2/3 gender rule. The Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) and Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust (CRAWN) want the failure of the Parliament to meet the 2/3 threshold declared unconstitutional and violation of women’s rights.
The quest for the 2/3 gender representation has found a voice online with the hashtag #Weare52pc as women from different lifestyles explain the importance of representation in political office.
For many, that half of Kenya’s population is not adequately represented in parliament is a cause for concern. Besides being unconstitutional, it is also a breach of fundamental rights of women. It is, therefore, necessary that in the spirit of the Constitution, the parliament passes a bill to effect the rule. Parliament failed twice before to pass this bill, claiming that it would result in giving women ‘free seats’ and that the legislature would end up as a taxpayer burden.
Women representation in parliament is also important if Kenya wants to keep up with it neighbour. Kenya has the lowest within the East African region at 20.7 per cent trailing behind Uganda and Burundi (35 per cent) Tanzania (36 per cent) and Rwanda (58 per cent).
Having women represented in parliament is a huge step in dealing with and fighting historical bias against female politicians. Factors such as patriarchal values as well as the state silencing women voices played a role in impeding participation of women in political office. This was seen in the violence and threats meted out on women politicians as they campaigned and contested for public office.
The nomination of women in the previous parliament proved fruitful if numbers of the just-elected parliament are anything to go by. Nine out of 23 nominated women in the 11th Parliament were elected as compared to one in eight nominated men. This goes further to prove that when given the chance, women can easily and quickly adapt to the leadership position.
Further, implementing the 2/3 gender rule will save Kenyans money needed for having additional representatives in county assemblies. According to National Gender and Equality Commission, only 96 women were voted as members of county assemblies across the country, meaning that the 47 county assemblies will not meet the threshold a required by the Constitution. Kenyans will need to fork out sh 10.98billion to remunerate special seats in their county assemblies for a five-year period.
As of now, the ball is in the court’s court as it makes a judgment on Thursday on the CREAW/CRAWN case and hears the FIDA case on September 20.