Thursday, 7 March 2013

Nairobi to Beijing: Building resilience and charting a Constitutional hope for Kenyan Women

This article is inspired by the dismal number of women elected in the Kenyan 2013 general elections. It is my hope that the next general elections will present a different outcome. All my love to the women of Kenya and happy International Women's Day.

The immediate Kenyan Parliament (10th Parliament) had 16 female members of parliament and 207 male members of parliament.  The total number of members of parliament was 213 with the Gatundu North seat being vacant. The 9th Parliament had 9 female members and 201 male members. The total number of members being 210. The 8th Parliament had only 4 elected female members and 12 nominated female members. The total number of female members of Parliament was 18 and the male members of parliament were 204.  The total number of members of parliament was 222.  This translated to 8.1% women representation.

Women constitute between 52% and 60% of the registered voters. Women representation in the political arena has been very poor since independence.  In 1963 there was no woman elected to Parliament. In 1969 two women were elected.  In 1974 six women were elected. In 1979 there were five elected female members of Parliament. In 1983 three women were elected and in 1988 two women were elected. In 1992 six women were elected.

This representation shows that indeed women have had a dismal representation in parliament since the year 1997. The 1992 elections represented a worse representation than the subsequent parliaments. This could have been one of the key factors taken into consideration during the drafting of the Constitution.  Though women form the majority to the voter population they lack adequate representation.  This has been due to their socialization into believing that only men should indulge in politics. Very few women have been elected to parliament over the years.

Over the years women who aspired for parliamentary positions as well as the Presidential positions have been discouraged from pursuing their political ambitions. Pendo Muninzwa indicates in her article “Kenya's General Elections, Women's Poor Performance” that “when a woman enters into politics she does not cease to be a woman. Her femininity remains and she has to be more diligent than a man in order to prove herself as an able leader”.

Despite there being a steady rise of female members of parliament in the three successive Parliaments, it is obvious that the number of male parliamentarians is constantly high and steady.

Female versus Male candidates and elected representatives

In 1992, out of 19 female candidates, 4 were elected. This compares to 940 male candidates, out of which 182 were elected. In 1997, there were 2497 male candidates out of which 204 were elected, compared to 50 female candidates out of which 4 were elected. In the year 2002, there were 44 female candidates, 10 were elected. This election saw a total number of 991 male candidates out of which 201 were elected. In the year 2007, there was an impressive increase to 269 female candidates out of which 16 were elected. Conversely, the country had 2278 male candidates and 207 of them were elected. I shall in the coming days issue a comprehensive analysis of the 2013 general elections and compare the figures.

These figures indicate that the more women candidates there are, such as in the 2007 General Elections, the more chance they stand of being elected. We must therefore place out women in electable positions, we must employ the politics of presence to favour women.

Another important point to note is that the number of male candidates vying in the year 2007 declined (as opposed to the steady increase in the number of male candidates over the years) because of the coalition formed to offset the 24 year KANU regime. In the same year, the number of women candidates declined from 50 to 44. This shows that coalitions and party mergers in Kenya have been disadvantageous to women. In most cases, the positions are handed out by political party leaders, hence the correlation between the decline of the number of male and female candidates.

Kenyan Political Parties and the electoral system (before the promulgation of the Constitution 2010) were structural barriers to women's political participation. The ballot box on its own without supportive mechanisms cannot be an efficient way of ensuring women’s presence in elective public bodies. The culture of accepting more women in politics does not yet exist in Kenya. This is evidenced by the dismal number of women candidates which translates to the number of those elected. We must reinforce the politics of presence to favour women. The start has already been set by the Constitution and guidelines given to ensure that women have an equal political participation footing. The onus as indicated by the Supreme Court of Kenya in Advisory Opinion number 2 of 2012 lies with the next Parliament. In my opinion, the key lies with political parties.

The gap between legal and factual quality in the area of power and decision-making is so wide that women’s interests and concerns are not adequately represented at policy levels and women cannot influence key decisions in social, economic and political areas that affect society as a whole. They lack the critical mass.  Ideally, the political parties should take the initiative in seeing to it that women emerge in substantial numbers onto the political landscape.  If the experience of other countries such as India, South Africa, Sweden and Spain is anything to go by, considerable voting advantage flows from fielding large numbers of women candidates.

International experience shows that both voluntary and obligatory methods have been used to correct the under-representation of women in decision-making structures. This has been our Kenyan experience. In South Africa the breakthrough came when the African National Congress adopted an internal statute requiring that 30% of its candidates for the National Assembly be women.  This figure has since been raised to 33.3%.  The adoption of Proportional Representation in the Constitution made it relatively easy to achieve this minimum proportion; after the party membership through their branch representatives had voted for all the candidates on the ANC lists, so that those with the most votes were at the top and those with the least at the bottom. Adjustments were made in the ranking to ensure that at least three out of every bloc of ten names on the list were those of women.  This resulted in a number of women moving up the lists in a manner which respected the ranking given to each of them by the branch representatives.

In India, the issue of women’s representation in public political life has been on the agenda for a number of years.  The result has been that the Constitution has required since 1992 that not less than one-third of all seats in every Panchayat (village assembly) and every Municipality be reserved for women.  Since 1998 a constitutional amendment requiring at least one-third of the total number of seats in the Lower House to be filled by women has been tabled before parliament.  Although all the major parties have agreed to it in principle, no consensus has been reached as to how the requirement of one-third is to be met and the Bill has not yet been passed.  It is particularly difficult where Members of Parliament are elected in single-member constituencies to establish that one Member in three be female. Various systems of rotation have accordingly been proposed.  Another problem has been how to ensure that women from communities referred to as backward communities and scheduled castes be included, as well as women from the group referred to as Anglo-Indian.

The equal participation of women and men in public life is one of the cornerstones of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and in force since 1981. Article 7 of CEDAW provides: State parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and in particular shall ensure to women, on equal terms to men, the right:

a)     To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies;

b)     To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government;

c)    To participate in non-government organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

Article 81(2) (b) of the Kenyan Constitution provides that the electoral system shall comply with the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of the elective pubic bodies shall be of the same gender. The Constitution however does not provide how this should conclusively be achieved. It provides for quotas. As we have seen, these quotas do not guarantee the realisation of this principle. Therefore, in terms of progressive realisation, the government should adopt policies, plans and programs with regard to achieving this principle as advised by the Supreme Court.

The social impact of increased women representation in Kenya

Women have been marginalised in the political sphere in Kenya and their role in contributing to national sustainable development ignored. Low representation of the women in the political arena means that the Kenyan Republic is under utilising its human resource base available for development. In addition, the little or non- participation of women in the decision making process translates to their perspectives being ignored. They lack the critical mass to advance important social and economic issues affecting women and children

The social impact of increased women representation in Kenya would, arguably, entail greater attention for the following agenda: childcare policy, family policy, gender equality, social policy, land rights policy, poverty alleviation policies, HIV/AIDS policy, sexual freedom policy, violence against women policies and many more policies

It must also be noted that there exists contrasting pictures of the effect of increased women's representation. As demonstrated by other countries, where women are present in 'critical mass' levels in national parliaments, (generally agreed to be about 30%) the policy agenda shifts. It is opined that this would be the same for the Kenyan parliament. Although it has been argued that there is little evidence so far to suggest that increased women's representation has altered policy outcomes to any significant degree. 

This notion must be dispelled by the Kenyan women parliamentarians when they meet the critical mass level. Although, it has been shown that gender policies have been greatly achieved in parliaments that have had a high number of women representatives in Parliament in Kenya such as the 9th and 10th Parliaments such as the Sexual Offences Act.

The 2013 General Elections

The 2013 General elections has revealed that 14 15 women have been elected as Constituency members (equivalent to the former MP’s in the old dispensation). The Constitutional provision to have 47 elected Women Representatives has also been realized. Sadly, Kenya has not elected a single female Governor or Senator. The dream of having a female Head of State remains as such, a dream. Kenyans must re-engineer their mindsets and accommodate the possibility of allowing women to hold important positions in government. The Supreme Court of Kenya ordered the next Parliament to ensure that the mechanisms required to ensure that not more than two thirds of members in elective positions are of the same gender is implemented on or before 27th August 2015. In the next elections therefore, Kenyans must elect women to key positions or risk the cost that comes with an expanded parliament should the two-thirds principle be fulfilled by way of nominations.

No comments:

Post a Comment