Greater advocacy needed for Kenyans to appreciate gender equality
Kisumu County Assembly seems to be one of the most balanced county assemblies in the country when it comes to gender equality.
The County Assembly has 19 women members with seven being directly elected from the wards and 12 nominated to meet the two thirds gender rule as stipulated in the Constitution.
Kisumu County Assembly has a total of 49 members with two women as Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.
Despite these achievements, women leaders from the county are still calling for intensive sensitization on women’s leadership since gender equality remains a challenge.
Women aspiring for various political positions, continue to face great barriers, a factor that has hindered achievement of equitable gender representation within the country.
Even though Kisumu County Assembly has achieved some semblance of equality, more women still need to be elected by the people and not appointed on nomination by political parties.
Women also need to be made aware of achievements and challenges on their way to leadership so that they can support and nurture efforts towards achieving gender equity.
Since promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya in 2010, there has been a need to elect and nominate more women at the national and county levels.
Nominated MCA Farida Salim says due to this, more efforts are needed towards empowering and supporting women to participate in politics and governance at county and national levels.
According to Salim, women should be convinced through civic education on the importance of electing more women not only within the county level but also at the National Assembly.
Salim challenges women political leaders to work towards setting the pace to open more spaces for other women.
She notes the need to increase women’s political representation in terms of elective positions to ensure that nominated slots are reduced.
“We need more women in elective positions because affirmative action policy is a temporary measure to bridge the gender equality gap,” Salim explains.
She reiterates that this can only be achieved if women burn the ‘midnight oil’ to ensure that they elect more women on the 2017 General Election.
However, Salim reiterates that achieving gender equality will depend on how fast women within the counties and the country as a whole move forward towards achieving this by going for more elective positions.
Salim who witnessed gender based violence against women during the General Election campaigns in 2013 notes that although the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have lapsed, gender equality is still an issue that is being addressed within the Post-2015 Development Agenda in the Sustainable Development Goals framework.
The MDGs were set up in 2000 as development targets that would see poverty reduced in developing countries. However as the set time frame for the MDGs came to an end, goals like promotion of gender equality had not been achieved. This has now been extended into the SDGs, which are the current global development framework. Goal number five of the SDGs seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Among its targets is to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere and ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
The goal casts the net wider, aiming to bring about transformative change within societies, institutions and economic structures to end gender inequality and all other forms of discrimination.
The goal seeks to have elimination of all forms of gender based violence as well as social and economic inequalities including income inequality and even labour standards.
According to Salim, if women’s perception can be changed in terms of how they perceive politics, then the SDG on gender equality can be achieved.
“The problem is getting women to come out and compete or vie for elective positions, which is very difficult due to these perceptions,” she says adding that women should be bold to contest.
Women must go beyond nominated slots which come with a lot of challenges as members are not entitled to any financial allocations.
On July 31, 2015 while presenting a petition to the committee of Justice and Legal Affairs in Kisumu, women within the county termed the controversial Chepkonga Bill on two-thirds gender rule as retrogressive.
Rosa Buyu, head of an action group dubbed Thuluthi Mbili za Mama who read the petition, said women of Kenya are tired of empty promises to equal treatment.
The women called for withdrawal of the Chepkonga Bill and passage of the Technical Working Group Bill or any other bill that provides for the realization of constitutional gender principal as required by law.
However, Pamela Omino, Deputy Speaker of the County Assembly of Kisumu reiterates that there is gender equality within the county assembly.
Omino who has also been acting as Speaker, notes that in terms of political representation in the assembly, women are well represented both from the assembly and county government.
“I remember there was a time when the governor was making changes in his cabinet and the proposed list was not gender sensitive. The women MCAs rejected the list,” recalls Omino adding that the list had to be changed before it was approved.
However, Omino notes that there is need for thorough sensitization and encouragement of women who are willing to contest for political seats.
Easter Achieng, Executive Director, Kenya Female Advisory Organization (KEFEADO) says leaders should start engendering political parties so that people can see them (parties) as embracing women leadership.
“Unless political parties change and start giving women equal chances, then attitude and perception of the society towards them will remain the same,” explains Achieng.
She poses: “The challenge of achieving gender equality is that even though we have looked at the numbers, how do we translate the numbers and ensure they are used to influence politics?”
Despite affirmative action measures being in place especially at the county level, women’s participation in the 2013 General Election remained very low.
There were 19 women candidates for senatorial and gubernatorial positions (out of 237 candidates). As a result, no woman were elected as senator or governor.
According to Kennedy Kimani, Political Parties Engagement Officer at the Institute of Education in Democracy (IED), out of the elected 290 members of the National Assembly, women account for only 5.5 percent.
Kimani says of the 1,450 ward representative positions, only 88 (six percent) of the elected candidates were women.
Political representation of Kenyan women stands at 15 percent vis-a-vis Rwanda at 56 percent, South Africa’s 42 percent, Tanzania’s 36 percent and Uganda’s 35 percent.
Kenya’s 15 percent is an improvement from the previous 9.8 percent representation in the 10th Parliament and the increased numbers can be greatly attributed to the reserved seats for the 47 women representatives for the county constituencies in the National Assembly.
According to Kimani, the current representation is the highest level so far of women’s political leadership in Kenya. He notes it is still very poor showing in this day and age where women’s political participation has generally improved around the world.