On May 9, Kenya’s 11th Parliament will reconvene and, among its key priorities will be to pass the Gender Bill.
President Uhuru Kenyatta recently instructed National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale to put the Bill at the top of the House’s agenda in order to stave off a constitutional crisis and place issues related to women’s leadership at the forefront.
Despite women making up 52 per cent of Kenya’s population and 60 per cent of the country’s registered voters, political representation is still heavily skewed in favour of men. For instance, while some progress has been made in the current Parliament — with women MPs now comprising 19.5 per cent, up from 9.8 per cent in the 2007- 2013 period — Kenya still falls short of the target set out in Article 81 of the Constitution.
It states that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” Furthermore, our current situation compares poorly with that of our neighbours — Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania — who have managed to attain at least 33 per cent women representation in their respective parliaments.
The journey to achieving the two-thirds gender rule through the passing of the Gender Bill has been long and winding. Two-and-a-half years after the promulgation of the Constitution, Kenya held a general election that afforded full effect to the provisions of the new Constitution.
The Constitution provided a time-frame of five years within which the legislation on the representation of marginalised groups was to be passed. This five-year provision expired on August 27, 2015. There was a brief ray of hope when Adan Duale’s Bill came for a second reading on April 26, 2016.
MPs across the political divide were urged to show up and vote for the landmark Bill. Unfortunately, when it came time to vote, the Bill only garnered 195 supporters — 38 less than the threshold set by Article 256 of the Constitution.
With regards to women’s representation in East Africa, Rwanda leads with 64 per cent of parliamentary seats held by women. No doubt, the participation of women in political spheres has fostered an environment of economic growth in these countries. Research proves that women are critical to a country’s economic development, civil society and good governance, especially in developing countries.
Indeed, as Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen once pointed out, the economic, political, and social participation of women is the most important force for development today.
Achieving gender equality, of which political participation is a critical component, is essential to the reduction of poverty and improvement of governance. Women’s participation in politics can facilitate democracy.
This is because not only does it improve their civil rights and help them articulate their interests, but also because women in positions of influence tend to make different policy choices that are beneficial to the distribution of public resources and development. Empowering women as political actors can change policy choices and make institutions more representative of a range of voices. In India, for example, giving power to women at the local level led to greater provision of public services, such as water and sanitation.
While the benefits of political inclusion of women are visible, current research posits numerous explanations for the lack of women in leadership roles. They include gender discrimination, lack of female role models, aversion to competitive environments, family responsibilities and social norms. I am of the opinion that we can address these challenges through structural changes to political frameworks, such as ensuring the passage and implementation of the Gender Bill.
In order to ensure that the gender gains in the Constitution are consolidated, the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs has adopted a strategic focus for its activities to respond to the emerging challenges on female participation in political processes.
It also remains committed to increasing women’s access to economic opportunities as well as limiting the transmission of gender inequality across generations. This can best be illustrated by the successful roll-out of programmes such as the Uwezo Fund — which has so far disbursed Ksh5.35 billion ($53 million) in all the 290 constituencies to 61,675 groups of which 38,700 are women’s groups; and the Women’s Enterprise Fund — which has disbursed loans totalling Ksh9.9 billion ($99 million) to 1,336,638 women beneficiaries.
Now more than ever, it is clear in the minds and hearts of Kenyans that the political inclusion of women translates to benefits for us all. As Winston Churchill once said: “Now, we are masters of our fate.” The growth of our nation and the security of our future, depends on parliamentarians passing the Gender Bill once parliament resumes on Tuesday, May 9.
Sicily Kariuki is Cabinet Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs.