Political parties not doing enough to achieve affirmative action

Participants engage panelists at a past Gender Forum organised by Heinrich Boll Stiftung in Nairobi. Photo: Courtesy
Participants engage panelists at a past Gender Forum organised by Heinrich Boll Stiftung in Nairobi. Photo: Courtesy

Kenyans are preparing to go for the next general elections on 8th of August this year. Campaign heat can be felt around the country and most of those who are contesting have already declared their interest to the voters.

However, there is concern amongst stakeholders that in the absence of affirmative action legislation, it is very likely that more than two thirds of the members of Kenya’s next parliament will be men.

Of critical concern is that political parties seem to be doing very little to mitigate this foreseeable constitutional crisis and demonstrate their commitment to equal political representation by having more women nominated to vie in their strongholds.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 recognizes women, youth, persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities as special groups deserving constitutional protection. It espouses the rights of women as being equal to men in law and should not be discriminated against and are entitled to enjoy equal opportunities in the political, social and economic spheres.

The deadline to put an affirmative action in place legislation lapsed in August 2015. There is still no law to ensure no more than two thirds of the same gender representation in Parliament as Kenya heads to elections and time to address this challenge through legislative means has run out. It is foreseeable that the constitutionality of the electoral process and next parliament could be questioned in court.

Current scenario

While addressing the Gender Forum Ken Okoth, Member of Parliament for Kibra Constituency blamed the current situation on many factors. First, he said, there is no effort being made by the current political leaders to change the situation. He further stated that Kenya is still being run by men and hence the mismanagement of ensuring that affirmative action policy is in place. “They are the majority in the House  and hence make only decisions that favour them with no consequences for their actions”

Concerned that no one has held politicians accountable for their actions, he noted that in almost all political parties only a small minority care about including women.

Addressing the same forum, Jane Njiiru, vice chairperson of Political Parties Liaison Committee, advised women not to lose hope. “Women should start their campaigns early. Once people see what you have done you will get the party nomination and eventually the vote.”

However, Njiiru acknowledged that the term ‘implementing progressively’ has become a barrier to the achievement of affirmative action policy.

“Progressive implementation has left the whole process at the mercy of politicians. There is no time frame and nobody can be held accountable.”

Dilemma    

In the absence of two thirds gender principle legislation, what more can be done?

Irene Oloo, Gender Director, Orange Democratic Movement Party expressed concern that not enough women are in the political parties’ process.

“It is not about numbers but being in strategic positions to influence decision making within the party. Political parties must break the cultural and political attitude of excluding women from the negotiation table,” said Oloo.

Ogla Karani, National Deputy Party Treasurer at ODM blamed the current situation on societal attitude. “There is a wrong perception that we need to help this disadvantaged group. We should instead empower them to be equal contestants.”

Karani noted that women have more power in their femininity if well used. She said: “They need to fit in society as equal partners.”

Okoth advised Kenyans who support affirmative action to collect signatures and take to IEBC to demand for a referendum.

“It is very clear that there is very little expected from the political parties and parliament has proven to be unfriendly to the process. That is why the bill on affirmative action has always failed whenever it’s tabled in the House.”

Oloo is hopeful that things will change in her party. “In ODM, under Gender Advisory, we have a technical committee that discusses gender issues and tries to make the political environment conducive for the women,” she said.

Nomination fee

One of the things that ODM has done is to reduce nomination fees for women in all elective positions. They have also created a one stop shop for women where they can make all inquiries and get assistance.

Okoth further advised women to be very careful and aware of their environment. “Politics is violent to both men and women unfortunately women are the easier targets. It is, therefore, an individual’s responsibility to avoid circumstances that lead to violence,” Okoth warned. He added: “In the unfortunate event that they become victims, then they should report the attack to the gender desks which are now available in most police stations.”

On the question as to why why it is important to nominate women in parliament and the impact of having Women Representatives, Okoth responded: “There are those who had been nominated and in the process they gained popularity and were voted in the following election. A good example is Millie Odhiambo, MP for Mbita Constituency.”

He noted: “Other women who were nominated for positions like Member of County Assembly are now vying for bigger positions like Member of Parliament hence giving room for more to be nominated.”

He noted: The nomination process built their confidence and now they can compete equally with men. Affirmative action is not just for women, you never know, men might need it in the future.”

The Gender Forum is a monthly public dialogue convened by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung since 2001, encouraging dialogue on pertinent national social issues with a gendered lens.