The clamour for more women representation in Parliament yesterday elicited mixed reactions from lawmakers.
MPs held a spirited debate on the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2018, sponsored by Majority leader Aden Duale, seeking to ensure that the two Houses comply with the two-thirds gender prescribed by the Constitution.
MPs are expected to either endorse or reject it on Thursday.
Currently, there are 76 women in the National Assembly — 23 elected from constituencies, 47 women representatives and six nominated.
The Senate has 21 women senators who include 19 nominated and three elected members. Elected senators are Fatuma Dullo (Isiolo), Margaret Kamar (Uasin Gishu) and Susan Kihika (Nakuru).
If the law were to be passed and apply to the current term, the National Assembly would require 20 additional women and Senate two more women to meet the gender principle.
The National Assembly has 349 members while the Senate has 67 members. The new changes would push the number of MPs to 438.
Kenya ranks low in women representation with only 22 per cent of MPs being women behind Rwanda (61 per cent) and Ethiopia (50 per cent) — the only African countries that have attained the two-thirds gender parity according to World Bank data.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, ODM party leader Raila Odinga and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka have all implored their party MPs to pass the Bill.
Yesterday, Majority leader Duale urged members to endorse the amendment to safeguard the Constitution.
Duale told the Star: "We need to make a decision as a House to actualise a provision in the Constitution which has not been implemented since 2010."
But Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa told a press conference —later raised in the House —that the Bill lacked modalities on how the women would be picked to attain the threshold.
He expressed fear that if the Bill sails through as it is, women at the grassroots would be shortchanged in nominations to the House by those favoured by political party “owners”.
"I ask my fellow MPs to reject this Bill as it is because it does not give an opportunity for the rural woman to choose who will represent them in Parliament. It instead grants political parties’ leadership powers to bring slay queens through nominations," Barasa said.
"We have seen people nominating their girlfriends. It is true we need women in active political leadership but they must be women of substance. I want to tell the Majority leader that this Bill is dead on arrival," he said.
But Duale swiftly dismissed Barasa, saying it was mandatory for Parliament to pass the Bill so as to abide by the provisions of the Constitution.
"Barasa is one of my members in Jubilee and it is my business as Majority leader to convince him among other members. Parliament looks very bad in terms of legislation because it has implemented all other pieces of legislations and left out this crucial one," Duale said.
"It is s high time that Parliament rose to the occasion in defending the Constitution of Kenya. Women must be present at the decision-making table," he added.
The Bill requires the support of 233 MPs (two thirds of all the members) to pass. If it sails through the House and is assented to by the President, it will be effective after the 2022 General Election.
Moving the motion, last evening, Duale said: “Those who claim that we are going to increase the wage bill should know that democracy and governance is always expensive. The role of women in governance should not be underestimated.”
Kangema MP Muturi Kigano had tried to have the Bill trashed, saying it could only have been considered through a referendum.
Kigano said that the Bill touched on the sovereignty of Kenyans and would not be implemented by the House.
"For the Constitution to be mutated, it has to be through a referendum. This Bill is unconstitutional because it does not make reference to a referendum," Kigano said.
But Minority leader John Mbadi countered: “Let us pass the Bill as it is and if it will require a referendum during presidential assent, we will tackle the issue then. But this Bill does not touch on the sovereignty of the people of Kenya.”
Article 81 of the Constitution requires that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies be of the same gender.
The special seats — according to the proposed law — is estimated to ensure the bicameral House complies with the two-thirds gender rule after 20 years.
"A sunset clause of 20 years is included in the amendment with an option for extension for one further fixed period of 10 years as it is expected that by that time, enormous gains will have been made with regard to gender parity in elected MPs," the Bill reads.
A similar Bill flopped in the previous Parliament after male lawmakers ganged up to defeat the motion by walking out.
The current Bill also seeks to limit the nomination of a person to Parliament or county assembly to two terms.
The Kenya Women Parliamentary Association lobby group met political party leaders, the Kenya Editors Guild, fellow parliamentarians and civil society leaders to push for the passing of the Bill.
"It is a constitutional requirement that we must meet at all costs. We are already late on this. The time is now to ensure fair gender representation in parliament," KEWOPA chairlady and Kirinyaga Woman Representative Wangui Ngirici said.
KEWOPA vice chairlady and Kisumu Woman Representative Rosa Buyu and Kandara MP Alice Wahome lauded the President and his deputy for endorsing the Bill.
While endorsing the Bill, Uhuru said: “I know some people are saying that the Bill will increase the country’s wage bill. But the earlier Bill has been amended and the seats that have been set have decreased according to our Constitution. I therefore humbly request the MPs to pass the Bill so that we can prove that we have fully heeded to what our constitution requires of us”.
Raila noted that Parliament has continuously violated the rights of women by denying them the opportunity to have more seats.
"The Bill being tabled is meant to help the country realize the right to equality and freedom from discrimination for women as stipulated in the 2010 Constitution," Raila said.
If the Bill sails through as it is, Kenya will incur at most Sh500 million every year for 20 years starting 2022 to cater for Parliament's two-thirds gender requirement.
Institute of Economic Affairs chief executive Kwame Owino said implementing the law will cost less than one per cent of the total government expenditure.