By Kerigo Odada
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 upholds the rights of women as being equal in law to men, and entitled to enjoy equal opportunities in the political, social and economic spheres. Under Article 81 (b) not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive public bodies shall be of the same gender.
Under Article 27 of the constitution the government is required to develop and pass policies and laws, including affirmative action programs and policies to address the past discrimination that women have faced. Additionally, the government is required to develop policies and laws to ensure that, not more than two-thirds of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same sex. However this law that was a significant achievement for women has recently come under threat since the Chepkonga Bill was tabled before parliament. The Bill seeks to amend the provision of articles 81 (b) by providing for its progressive realization. This move by the Chair of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee was not taken lightly by women and men who are in support of gender parity in political representation.
Civil Society Organizations came together in support of an advocacy campaign against the Chepkong’a Bill. The campaign is meant to ensure that the two-thirds gender rule is fully implemented as set out in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and that women’s participation in politics and government is safeguarded.
CSOs-led campaigns such as Thuluthi Mbili Za Mama Twazitaka Sasa and Green Amendment, both supported by likeminded parliamentarians under the umbrella of KEPHRA (Kenya Parliamentary for Human Rights Association) and KEWOPA (Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association) came together in support of one formula that has already been tabled before parliament by Leader of Majority in Parliament Hon. Aden Duale.
The two formulae being championed by CSOs were:
Twinning: Have the 290 constituencies contested as usual. Then pair up 98 neighbouring constituencies for women to compete among themselves in addition to the 47 slots already created in counties. For example, Kibra merged with Langata, Westlands paired up with Kabete, Dagoreti North with Dagoreti Westland. Again the team was proposing nomination slots to be extended by 14 to make it 20 to represent youth, women and persons with disabilities. In summary, if this proposal had gone through, there would be 290 MPs, 145 female elected MPs and 20 nominated MPs to represent special groups and one Speaker adding up to 456 persons in the National Assembly.
The ‘greatest looser’: currently being championed by CSOs, KEWOPA and KEPHRA. It was tabled by the Attorney General through Hon. Duale after High Court Judge, Justice Mumbi Ngugi gave the Attorney General and the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) 40 days to prepare and table the two-thirds gender rule Bill before Parliament. The Bill states that, after an election, if the number of women does not meet the constitutional threshold, the gap will be bridged by picking additional women as per party lists. Political parties will submit a list of members to be nominated. According to the Bill, the allocation of the seats will be done proportionally on the basis of the number of seats won by a political party in order to ensure the empowerment through nomination will be spread to many people. The Bill also stipulates that one cannot be nominated for the special seats for more than two terms. It says the provision for the special seats will lapse 20 years after the 2017 elections.
The Bill introduces new clauses to Articles 97 and 98 to alter the composition of the National Assembly and the Senate. “The composition of the National Assembly (Senate) comprises of the number of special seat members necessary to ensure no more than two-thirds of the membership of the National Assembly (Senate) is of the same gender,” the new clause says. The Bill also introduces new clauses to Articles 97 and 98 to ensure the special seats are allocated proportionate to the number of seats won by a political party, determined after a general election.
Moving a motion to reduce the Bill’s publication period, majority leader Aden Duale said the National Assembly will seek the extension of the fast-approaching August 27 deadline for the Bill’s enactment.
The laws that are targeted for review are the Elections Act, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act, the Political Parties Act, the County Governments Act and the National Gender and Equality Commission Act.
FEMNET is united with the women’s movement in Kenya and in Africa in calling on the Parliament to act in the interest of both men and women in fulfilling the promise the Kenya Constitution that is recognized as one of the most
progressive Constitutions in Africa. Often we hear about the huge cost associated with increasing the number of women in parliament and yet we do not hear about the cost of excluding experiences, expertise of more that 50 percent of the population from being part of the decision-making on matters that impact their lives.
Kenya is the only country in the Eastern Africa that has recently entered the category of the middle income country, is one of the Countries’ that hosted the women’s international conference, hosted the launch of the African Women’s Decade in 2010 and recently co-facilitated the just concluded negotiations of the Post-2015 Development Agenda that has emerged with great wins for gender equality. Yet, in Eastern Africa, Kenya is performing dismally on women’s political representation. Kenya falls short of reaching the 30 percent threshold of women’s representation as stipulated in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and definitely far below the African Union’s 50 percent gender parity policy framework. For this situation to change there is a need to change the Kenyan political systems and most importantly the gender perceptions of the policymakers and the entire citizenry.
The recent 20 years review of the Beijing Platform for Action (Beijing +20) showed that eight countries in Africa including South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Seychelles and Uganda have reached the 30 percent target of women in the national parliament. It is high time that Kenya learnt from these countries. With or without formulas, implementing the two thirds gender principle is do-able!
Kerigo Odada is a lawyer passionate about pan-Africanism, economic empowerment and political participation of women and girls, currently attached to the Advocacy Programme at FEMNET. Follow her at @eunidada