Women and politics in Kenya, quest for elective seats
By Vera Shawiza / August 16, 2017 | 10:58 am
It has been argued that, in society where gender equality is greater with regard to both opportunities and benefits, the result is a better quality of life. As such addressing any gender inequalities and empowering women not only becomes very important in meeting the challenge of rigid gender roles affecting women but also gives women their absolute rights and benefits humanity as a whole.
Women forging new political ground often have to struggle to receive media coverage and legitimacy in the eyes of the media and subsequently the public. For one to be noticed, a woman has to act in a manly way so as to prove a point. Failing to reach the apex in leadership and decision making has been made worse by the men-women divide.
A majority of women who have pursued leadership positions have experienced many challenges such as discrimination during their pursuits. Another challenge facing women seeking leadership positions is that they are perceived to be assertive or ambitious. These standards are differently applied to the men whose pursuits are considered as good leadership qualities.
Like most African societies, the status of women in Kenyan politics is appalling. Even though women account for about 52 percent of the Kenya’s adult population and almost 60 percent of the voting population, their representation in politics especially in leadership positions has been very low for a very long period of time.
According to a research by Mary Nyangweso Wangila on Religion and Women in Politics in Kenya, whereas Kenya’s first political party, Kenya African National Union (KANU), was in power since independence (in 1963), the only first country’s female cabinet was appointed in 1995. This appointment resulted from pressure from women’s groups who demanded that women should have a representative in parliament. The 1997 parliament with 210 seats had only seven women with only one appointed as assistant minister in the then Moi’s cabinet (Nzomo, 2003: 4).
Even in the general elections held in the year 2002 where the number of women increased considerably compared to other times in history, the population of women in parliament is far below 10 percent. As a result of poor representation, women in Kenya lack a sufficient voice to push the enactments of laws that could enhance respect for women’s human rights and alleviation of economic marginalization and other forms of oppression they face daily.
The perception on women and politics has taken a different angle a far as the 2017 General Elections were concerned where women played a bigger role. More women registered to vote than men in 21 of Kenya’s 47 counties, which accounted to 9.4 million or 47 percent of voters.
The August 8, polls will see 70 female representation in the 12th Parliament.
This election saw the first election of three female governors—former minister of devolution Anne Waiguru, Joyce Laboso, and Charity Ngilu. In Kirinyaga county Waiguru beat her opponent, Martha Karua another seasoned female politician, with 54 percent of the vote. Ngilu will be the first female governor of Kitui county in eastern Kenya, while Laboso clinched the Bomet county. Seat which was also a tough contest with her counterpart Isaac Ruto.
Kenya’s constitution maintains that women occupy a third of parliament seats but the government has been slow to enact the rule. Women won elected seats in Kenya’s legislature for the first time. In this election, three women will take elected Senate seats—Margaret Kamar of Uasin Gishu, Susan Kihika of Nakuru, and Isiolo’s Fatuma Dullo.
Sophia Abdi Noor made history by becoming the first woman from an ethnic Somali background to be elected to parliament. Noor won in Ijara constituency in North Eastern Kenya, which is considered as one of the most marginalized and poorly-developed regions in Kenya. She was also the only woman aspirant in the region to contest for a parliamentary seat amongst men.
The struggle for gender equality in elective and appointive positions in Kenya
Phoebe Asiyo tabled a motion for affirmative action to increase women’s participation in Parliament and local authorities to at least one third (33.3%) in 1997. In the same motion, she also sought to have the level of public funding for political parties linked to the percentage of women candidates fronted by the party. The motion was soundly defeated.
In 2000, Beth Mugo tabled a similar motion which was referred to the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC). The last attempt to deal with this issue before the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution was the motion by Martha Karua, the then Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, in the run up to the 2007 general elections. The motion sought to amend the Repealed Constitution to provide for 50 seats in Parliament for women. The Bill failed to get the necessary 65% quorum for constitutional amendment resulting in the rejection of the Bill.
The 2010 Constitution provides that ‘not more than two-thirds of the members of elective bodies shall be of the same gender’.
Kenya is also a signatory to international treaties that provide for equal rights of men and women in public life80 and ratified CEDAW in 1985 in the run up to the Third Women’s Conference
that was held in Nairobi in the same year. Kenya also ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol)81 after the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.
Article 177(1)(b) and (c) of the 2010 Constitution, which included in the composition of county
assemblies ‘the number of special seats members necessary to ensure that no more than two-thirds of the membership of the assembly are of the same gender’.
Curiously, no similar provision was included for Parliament (National Assembly and Senate).
Article 90 (1) provides that ‘elections for the seats in Parliament provided for under Articles 97 (1) (c) and 98 (1) (b), (c) and (d), and for the members f county assemblies under 177 (1) (b) and (c), shall be on the basis of proportional representation by use of party lists’.
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