Finding an equal place for women in the elections remains an obligation of the 12th Parliament
The place of women in election as candidates, voters and officials including being party agents has always remained a topic that nobody gives much thought.
However, ever since Kenya got her new constitution in 2010, the role of women in elections has gained a lot of interest especially with the Chapter on the Bill of Rights calling for freedom from all forms of discrimination including in the political field.
Speaking at a meeting convened to discuss Kenya’s Election Coverage through the Gender Lens, Judie Kaberia, coordinator of Wayamo Foundation East Africa noted that even though women are more than half the population, less than half registered as voters.
“In the 2017 General Election, 19.6 million Kenyans registered as voters where women accounted for only 47 percent,” said Kaberia. She noted: “In the 2013 General Election women accounted for 49 percent of the total voters.”
Kaberia explained: “In 2013, eight women contested for governorship, 19 ran for the Senate, 165 contested for the National Assembly and 155 vied for 47 women representative positions.”
In 2017 General Election, the registered number of candidates stood at 14,523 according to data from Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
From the above statistics it is evident that women tend to shy away from vying for elective positions compared to their male counterparts. The report stated: “Stereotypes, misconceptions, cultural barriers and bias against women as well as violent nature of Kenyan politics, lack of resources and biases against women are some causative factors why women do not run.”
According to data from the IEBC, in 2013 no women were elected for the gubernatorial and senate positions, 13 women were elected Members of the National Assembly and 88 as Members of the County Assembly.
However this has changed. In the just concluded poll, three women won the election in gubernatorial position and will now serve as governors, three women as elected senators, 25 were elected as Members of the National Assembly and 96 women as members of county assembly.
This improvement has largely been linked to Affirmative Action rule that has enabled women get favour from the voters. “The creation of special seats has had a positive spin. A number of the women who were elected on the special seats have gone ahead to win elective seats as members of parliament and governors,” said Jemimah Njuki, a senior programme specialist at Canada’s International Development Research Centre.
Affirmative action has also helped clear some misconceptions that women cannot be good leaders. “Affirmative action and special seats or quotas has created the critical mass that is required to change perceptions about women’s leadership,” said Njuki. She noted: “As society sees more and more women in political leadership and as these women bring a new style of leadership, society starts to see this as the norm rather than the exception.”
Despite the increase in women’s representation, the two thirds gender principle that requires not more than two thirds of the same gender occupying elective position has not been achieved. The 11th Parliament did not pass a crucial bill to bring into effect the two-thirds gender rule hence making the next parliament constitutionally illegitimate.
An extra 619 female members of the county assemblies (MCAs) will have to be nominated countrywide as none of the 47 counties attained the gender ratio as set in the Constitution.
The Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya has moved to stop the swearing in of the newly elected Members of Parliament until the two thirds gender rule is met.
Mutula Kilonzo Junior, who is an advocate of the High Court and Senator of Makueni County in a media briefing quoted Article 81(b) of the Constitution that states: “Not more than two thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” Kilonzo said that Article 27 on Equity and Freedom from Discrimination states that “to give full effect to the realisation of the rights guaranteed under this article, the state shall take legislative and other measures, including affirmative action programmes and policies designed to redress any disadvantages suffered by individuals or groups because of past discrimination.”
He concluded by saying: “The gender top up through nomination is not a favour to women, it is mandatory and an obligation that women occupy their space in both houses.”
FIDA sought to stop the IEBC from presenting a list of elected members of the National Assembly and Senate and swearing in unless they meet the two-thirds gender threshold. And in the event that the 12th parliament resumes before the case is concluded, FIDA wants the court to direct that the first and the only agenda of that day shall be to legislate a law that implements the two-thirds gender rule.