I have been keenly following the emotive debates in Kenya’s National Assembly on how best to achieve the constitutional requirement of gender parity by getting more women representation in politics and government. Women parliamentarians have been advocating for a forthright implementation of the rule requiring that not more than two-thirds of the same gender should be represented in elective seats or in high-ranking government positions. Their male counterparts have rooted for a progressive approach, which in the opinion of the women leaders, would take an eternity to implement.
The argument by the male lawmakers is that achieving the two-thirds gender rule as soon as possible is impractical as it would not only lead to creation of unnecessary political units or positions whose only purpose would be to gobble up more of taxpayers money. Some are instead proposing that the number of constituencies should infact be reduced and more women nominated by their parties to fight it out with men for the available slots. In retrospect, this hasn’t worked especially in societies which are still patriarchal and only view women as belonging to the homes to take care of the family.
Nordic countries such as Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are celebrated as global icons in as far as gender equality is concerned. But, in Africa, Rwanda stands above the rest of the countries in the continent as a champion of gender equality and has a better rating on this front than even world powers such as the US and China. Generally, Africa and the Middle East have some of the worst cases of poor women representation in politics and in leadership positions.
In the Nordic countries, women are healthier, more educated and are better represented in government as well as in top positions in companies compared with the men. One of the reasons why they have been able to achieve gender equality is by employing quota schemes that aim to support women to be as better educated and represented in top leadership positions as the men.
Rwanda is a very interesting case as it is one of the only two countries in the world that has had more women in parliament than men. The other country is Bolivia. However, in Kenya, the quest for strengthening the leadership and influence of women, particularly in politics continues to face legislative bottlenecks. The 2010 Constitution has been hailed as very progressive in advancing the rights of women and putting them at par with the men in terms of access to opportunities in politics and leadership. The Constitution envisions that members of the same gender should not constitute more than two-thirds of elective or appointive positions in the country. One of the provisions aimed at fulfilling this requirement was the introduction of 47 elective seats (one for each of the 47 counties) for women representatives in the National Assembly (These are known as Women Representatives or County MPs).
However, this has not fully seen to it that gender parity as envisioned in Articles 27 and 81 of the 2010 Constitution is realized. And, Kenya still lags behind her other neighbors in the East African Community in women representation in parliament. To realize greater fair gender representation not just in politics but also in appointive positions, the government should institute and support measures through legislation and other means (such as affirmative action and specific policies or programs aimed at ensuring this rule is met. So far, the process of achieving this through parliament has failed. Lobbyists of gender equality have partly attributed this failure to lack of political goodwill. The government currently enjoys majority support in parliament. It only requires political goodwill for the legislators to support the legislation that fully backs the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule.
It is worth noting that no single woman got elected as a governor or senator in the 2013 general election. Equally, out of the total of 1,908 contestants for the National Assembly positions, only 197 were women. Out of the 197 women, only 16 made it to Parliament, joining the 47 women representatives. At the County assembly level, 623 women vied but only 85 were elected. In contrast, 1,365 of their male counterparts were elected out of a total of 9,287 male contestants. Just one woman contested for the Presidency in March 2013 out of the seven men and she got less than 3% of the votes cast. Women need more support from their male counterparts, the government and their political parties to enable them contest for more elective positions across the country, and win for the right to lead.
Image Credit: Centre for Multiparty Democracy.