On 8th March 2015, world leaders pledged to fully implement laws designed to protect women’s rights and end discriminatory practices against women during the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) forum held in New York. This was done through the adoption of a political declaration by government ministers confirming their commitment to achieve gender equality by 2030. The declaration was however criticized by women’s rights activists as a weak text that doesn’t commit to the transformative change needed for gender equality.
Incidentally, the Executive Director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Lydia Alpízar, reiterated: “…We, women of the world in all our diversity, deserve much better than this. We deserve that you put aside your ideological, political and religious differences and fully recognize and affirm the human rights of women and girls and gender justice. Nothing less.”
Alpízar’s sentiments represents the voice of our Kenyan women, and men advocating for gender equality, like myself, who are demanding for the immediate realization of the constitutional two-thirds gender principle and the withdrawal of the offensive Constitutional Amendment Bill that seeks to take away the gains that we put in place to ensure gender equality. This chauvinistic Bill introduced by Hon. Samuel Chepkonga disregarded proposals made by the Technical Working Group (TWG) constituted by the Attorney General to develop a realistic framework for the realization of the two-thirds gender principle in political representation.
The TWG was composed of representatives from the National Gender and Equality Commission; Ministry of Devolution and Planning, Attorney General’s Office, Office of the Registrar of Political Parties; Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission; Commission on Administrative Justice, Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution; Parliament; Kenya Women’s Parliamentary Association and FIDA–Kenya.
One of the key proposals propounded by the TWG that will realize the two-thirds gender rule with precision is the use of party lists. It recommends a formula that has effectively worked for the county assemblies and involves the lifting of the provisions of Article 177 (b) and (c) to Articles 97 & 98 of the Constitution of Kenya (CoK 2010). It is a topping up mechanism where political parties will nominate members in proportion to the seats won in the general election.
Critics of this workable and most popular formula argue that implementing it will be too expensive and will significantly increase the country’s wage bill. According to a research undertaken by the Institute of Economic Affairs and the National Women Steering Committee, this argument is hypocritical, misleading and fallacious. The study revealed that the annual per capita cost of implementing the two thirds requirement is affordable as it would only cost each Kenyan an additional Ksh. 57.83 annually for this realization.
Other proposals made by the TWG include: doubling the 47 Women County Seats in the National Assembly; adopting proportional representation; tripling the 47 Women County Seats in the National Assembly; voting for a party ticket (twinning); gender quotas for party strongholds; rotational seats for affirmative action; reconfiguration of constituencies; and the best runner up formula.
All these proposals were disregarded by Chepkonga’s Bill that seeks indefinite suspension of the implementation of “Not more than two-thirds” principle in elective positions. Such resistance to women-based affirmative action has remained the facilitating tool for perpetuation of discrimination against women notwithstanding the letter and spirit of the CoK 2010.
Article 27 (8) of the CoK 2010 requires the state to take legislative and other measures to ensure that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies are of the same gender. Article 81 further reiterates that the same rule should be applicable in elective public bodies. In Kenyan public institutions, gender balance is skewed against women, thus the gender rule generally tries to bring in women into the lime light.
In Kenya, it has been the experience that women are underrepresented. From the first general election held in Kenya to the most recent 2013 general election, men have been the majority in parliament. There was 4.1% female representation in Parliament in 1997, 8.1% in 2002, 9.8% in 2007, and 15% in 2013.
Kenya is a signatory to many international instruments such as the Convention on all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Millennium Development Goals, the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 among many others. Being a signatory to these instruments which advocate for women representation at all levels of decision making, it is saddening that Kenya is making backwards steps towards implementation of the constitutional two-thirds gender principle.
Kenya should adopt, through legislation, and implement the most popular method worldwide of achieving affirmative action which is the use of quotas as provided in the CoK 2010. The Constitution however failed to provide a framework for the implementation of affirmative action, particularly in the National Assembly and the Senate, giving room for manipulation. Thus, the executive and the legislative arms of government must commit to pursue affirmative action policies by presenting constitutional, consultative and implementable legislation on gender equality.
Additionally, there is need for mindset change among the general public, male politicians and policy makers to erase the gender stereotypes against women and women leadership and to have the will requisite for the implementation of affirmative action policies.
Article by: Kennedy Kimani
Kennedy Kimani is the Programme Head, Policy and Legal Reform, at the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED)