The Gender Bill that was deferred to February 2019 due to lack of the requisite number to deliberate and vote by Members of Parliament in Kenya continues to elicit mixed reactions among Kenyans from both quarters of the divide. This bill, reintroduced by the Majority Leader Aden Duale after failing to go through in 2016 was seeking to meet the two thirds majority threshold as an Affirmative Action on the marginalised women group in parliament. The Bill proposed that more seats should be set aside for women through the nomination process as the electoral process had proven that it was almost impossible to attain the required numbers of women elected into parliament. Those for the Bill to go through cited various reasons that necessitated the adoption of that mechanism. These reasons ranged from Kenya still being a patriarchal society that had not integrated the notion of women in leadership; the murky waters of political campaigns that intimidated women aspirants from running successful campaigns and poor political structures and strategies in political parties that failed to create inclusivity in gender representation.
Obviously, the points raised are water tight and the proposers looked as though they were going to emerge victorious this time round in the debate. Truth be told, Kenya for decades still holds archaic believes about women and the society has been molded into thinking that women are there to be seen but not to be hard. Since time immemorial the world over, the position of women has been that of raising children and doing household chores while men took up the more lucrative roles of providing leadership and security to the community. However, according to the proposers, human rights activists and those who crafted the 2010 constitution that should not be the bedrock of decision making. To them, the world has evolved and it’s a violation of the human rights to deprive women of equal opportunities as men to progress in all spheres of life. That is why female education, the fight against early child marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) that tend to undermine female empowerment are being fought vehemently.
Besides that, it is also true that political campaigns in Kenya turn out to be violent and create an atmosphere of anarchy which is unfavourable to most women aspirants. Most of them tend to shelve their ambitions to avoid coming into conflict with their male counter parts that use unscrupulous means of intimidation, torture and threats to win elections. It is known worldwide that during murky political campaigns, women and children are always the victims. Moreover, women generally always lack the resources to spear head successful campaigns due to the obvious reasons of being disadvantaged over men from child birth. Such a bad atmosphere always leads to fewer women being elected into positions of leadership in Kenya and this is what the bill aims to rectify according to them.
In addition, political parties in Kenya over the years have only been used as vehicles for ascendancy into power. Once that was achieved, the same parties would wind up prematurely and others formed on the basis of favourable coalitions during the next general elections. Such parties have been formed specifically based on ethnic alignments as opposed to ideology in Kenya. Indeed, most parties nowadays have a tribal outlook and the introduction of multi-parties in Kenya in the year 1992 with the sole aim of promoting democracy is partly to blame for this miscued misconception among political parties. It has become an accepted norm in Kenya for tribes to come together in order to attain power where the majority carries the day. As a result, political parties lack appropriate structures and policies that seek to promote gender inclusivity. What we see are male dominated political parties. But if truly Kenya is genuine in achieving the two thirds gender rule, then such structures and policies should be at the forefront in the formation of parties. That way, we would see more women being nominated to vie for positions come general elections.
Critics of the bill however argue differently and they cite tangible arguments that cannot also be disputed or whisked away just like that. To them, they claim that those advocating for the creation of more seats in parliament to accommodate women have misinterpreted the constitution completely. They argue that if the bill is to go through, then those supporting it should devise ways of using the already available three hundred and forty nine seats that the constitution stipulates to bring into board more women parliamentarians. Addition of more seats to increase the number of parliamentarians they claim is tantamount to a violation of the constitution which would require a referendum for amendment of that clause.
Similarly, the proponents of that bill also believe that Kenya is not ready yet to increase the number of seats based on the huge wage bill that is hard to finance at the moment. Kenyan expenditure is ballooning every financial year and creation of more seats will have a significant burden on the tax payers who are already feeling the pinch with the recent increase in the fuel duty that has raked havoc in the living standard of many citizens. At the moment, this ideology seems to augur well with the electorates and the critics seem to have read the mood of their constituents very well.
Lastly, there are those who are of the opinion that Kenya has matured from the bondage of a patriarchal society as it is being claimed by some and therefore women should seek to be elected by campaigning rigorously as men do as opposed to just sitting and waiting to be spoon fed with free seats that come with nominations. They claim that many focused and hardworking women have been elected before in places that were predominantly patriarchal in nature hence it is possible to obtain the two thirds gender rule on the ballot. What these women should actually do is be ready to put dirt underneath their finger nails and campaign hard. They claim that the electorates are now well educated and informed to make the right decision on who they want to elect regardless of gender.
In conclusion, whether these arguments are right or wrong, it still remains to be seen if Kenya will eventually achieve the much elusive two thirds gender rule as anchored in the new constitution. All we can do is sit and wait as our legislatures continue to deliberate and the women populace continue to feel disenfranchised more and more each passing day.
Titiya Ommilah Daniel