Women in county assemblies urged to spearhead equality agenda
“You should not sit in positions of power to serve power, use power to serve aspirations of the people”…
This was the resounding call that aptly captured the mood of the Conference on Devolution and Women Leadership held in Naivasha.
Senate speaker Ekwe Ethuro set the tone of the meeting with an affirmation that women leaders must to come up with strategies to champion and take the gender agenda to the next level.
Ethuro urged women leaders to review their performance over the last one year as female legislators in counties as well as at the national level.
“This is your chance, you have the backing of the Constitution and you belong to institutions that the Constitution has given mandate to make laws either at the county or national level,” Ethuro reiterated.
His sentiments were echoed by Rukia Subow, chairperson Maendeleo ya Wanawake who urged women leaders and in particular Members of the County Assemblies (MCAs) to take the lead by denouncing retrogressive practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, wife inheritance and early marriages which she said were still rampant in some areas.
“We are counting on you to redress both traditional and cultural injustices meted out on women. You should shun rhetoric and come up with bills that outlaw harmful practices in your communities. Push for bills that protect both the women and the girls,” said Subow adding that there are numerous issues in the respective areas that will require their attention.
She reiterated: “You have a responsibility to make policies that advocate for change at the lower level. You will be judged harshly if you do not take advantage of the expanded political space to deliver on your mandate.”
Subow observed that the country was still way beyond meeting the gender threshold noting that currently political representation of Kenyan women currently stands at a mere 15 per cent compared to Rwanda (64 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), Tanzania (36 per cent) and Uganda (35 per cent).
It did not escape the delegates that at both senate and gubernatorial positions, all the elected representatives are male. Women serve as deputy governors and their numbers translate to a paltry 19 per cent in the 47 counties while at the Senate, women account for 90 per cent of the nominees and are constitutionally barred from voting.
Subow urged women to unite in their numbers and vote fellow women during the 2017 General Election to help bridge gender inequalities in the Senate and gubernatorial positions.
Advising women on how they could make use of the space provided by devolution, The Transition Authority was emphatic that women should use the expanded political space to push for the gender agenda and inclusion at all levels of governance.
According to Sophia Abdi from Transitional Authority, as women MCAs and stakeholders, they must now set the gender agenda so that leaders at all levels may begin to appreciate the equality.
“You have the voice now, you have a platform and Constitutional backing and, therefore, you should not sit in positions of power to serve power, use power to serve the people,” advised Abdi.
She said that the women MCAs can now use the County Development Integrated Plans and the budgeting process as a baseline to evaluate achievements of their respective assemblies in entrenching the equality and inclusion agenda.
Abdi urged the legislators to create champions amongst themselves and charge them with the responsibility of promoting equality in the devolved systems of government.
“The law is on your side, you need to be vigilante and build your voices together, you need to have unity of purpose, you need to advocate for your agenda and sustain that agenda so that other people can join your bid to bridge inequalities in this country,” Abdi noted.
She said that women should not tire in building the agenda of equality in this country especially now that they have several representatives who were either elected or nominated on the strength of affirmative action.
Abdi explained that Transitional Authority had worked with the National Gender and Equality Commission and county service boards to ensure that all recruitments at the county level upheld the two thirds gender rule.
“We have jointly developed human resource related guidelines to ensure that all provisions of equality and inclusion are adhered to by the county governments,” reiterated Abdi.
She said that counties now have their first one year and county integrated plans as well as budgets and sectoral plans for service delivery. She noted that these can serve as parameters to conduct a gender analysis in line with the equality provisions in the Constitution.
“We have the baseline that can help us evaluate the implementation process which is not without challenges. We have counties where people we posted were returned to us because they did belong to the dominant ethnic group,” explained Abdi. She added: “We have been told to our faces that if we bring somebody from a particular ethnic group, they will be rejected.”
On issues of gender, Abdi observed that some counties were taken to court for failing to uphold the two thirds gender rule during appointments.
“Some counties argued that there were no women to take up the jobs,” said Abdi. She added: “There is therefore need to regularly create awareness among communities so that women grasp the available opportunities.”
According to Abdi, a lot needs to be done to help bring on board women who have previously been marginalised.
“It is not too late as we now have over 700 women MCAs who can spearhead the equality and inclusion agenda,” she noted..