By Rachel Kagoiya
Time is now for Kenyans to fully tap into the unequivocal strengths of women leaders in our political arena. The 2012 general elections are just around the corner and although the dates are yet to be confirmed, Kenyans everywhere are calling for peaceful and fair electioneering process. In addition, women are calling for transformative leadership and governance that will propel women’s representation and participation in leadership in all spheres under the new 2010 Constitutional dispensation.
Currently, the National Assembly comprises of 224 members, i.e. 210 elected members of parliament, 12 members nominated by parties and 2 ex-officio members (the Attorney-general and the Speaker). Women hold less than 10% of the seats in parliament, with only 22 women (out of 224 members) and only 6 women are in the cabinet out of a total of 40 ministers.
The Constitution of Kenya (2010) recognizes women’s social, economic, cultural and political rights in all institutions of governance including political party structures and other organs of decision making. It entrenches the two thirds principles for either gender in all appointive and elective positions, thus ensuring that women are no longer marginalized in the public arena.
This means that in the devolved government provided for by the Constitution, we will have representatives for the National Assembly, the Senate and County Assembly. The National Assembly will have a total of 349 members i.e. 290 elected members, 47 women county representatives and 12 nominated members. The Senate will have 68 representatives i.e. 47 elected members representing the counties and 21 nominated members that will include 16 women, 2 youth representatives (one male and the other female) and 2 members representing people with disabilities (also one male and the other female) and a speaker. The County Assembly will include 47 elected members from each of the counties and nominated members appointed by the parties. In fact political parties are required to ensure that for every three party members presented to vie for political office, one must be a woman, and if she fails to be elected, a woman must be nominated by the party.
Over 1,000 women leaders, including women political aspirants, drawn from the 47 counties in Kenya met on 26th – 27th January 2012 at the historic Bomas of Kenya for the two-day National Women Leadership Platform for Action 2012 organized by the Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL). From the onset, the rallying call was on the need for women to be aware of the opportunities presented by the Constitution 2010 and how they can they can be vigilant in monitoring and be proactively involved in the implementation processes. Emphasis was laid on the need for women leaders to use issue-based politics in their campaigning, especially around performance, accountability and delivery of services that impact on the welfare and empowerment of the most vulnerable sectors in their communities.
Women members of parliament present (including Hon. Jebii Kelimo, Hon. Wavina Ndeti, Hon. Millie Odhiambo, Hon. Elizabeth Ongoro, Hon. Cecily Mbarire and Hon. Sophia Abdi Noor) shared their experiences on some of the most successful strategies they have used including: resource mobilization, networking, community activism, mentorship/ role modelling, engagement with political parties and strategic engagement with the media.
On the last day, the meeting culminated with the official launch of the first Kenya National Women’s Charter, presided over by Hon. Julia Ojiambo and Ms. Rukia Subow of Maendeleo ya Wanawake. The Charter will be used as a campaign tool for the women seeking for political positions in the upcoming general elections as well as act as a benchmark for the women leaders during their tenure. The Charter will also provide clarity and timeline demands on the realization of the women gains as stipulated in the Constitution 2010.
Speaking at the meeting, Hon. Charity Ngilu, Minister for Water called on all the women aspirants to utilize their numerical advantage and mobilization skills at the community level to garner seats as MPs, Governors, Senators and County assembly representatives in the upcoming general elections. She noted that some greedy or ill-informed leaders have been spreading rumours that women can only vie for the reserved women representative seats and not for the competitive and the ‘most-eyed’ seats for governors, senators and county assembly representatives. Clarity was therefore provided for all the women leaders and they were mandated to go share with their communities that women are legible for both elective and appointive positions in their counties.
So far, two women have presented their candidature to vie for the highest office in the country – Hon. Martha Karua, Gichugu Member of Parliament who is making major strides in her campaigning strategy via facebook and twitter and Ms. Kingwa Kamencu, a young student currently at the Oxford University in the UK and formerly at University of Nairobi.
Rachel Kagoiya works at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) as the Information Manager and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org