President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM Leader Raila Odinga have summoned their MPs to urgent meetings next week to rally support for the ‘Gender Bill’.
Jubilee and ODM are the two biggest parties in the House and their support is crucial to the bill sailing through. Jubilee has 140 MPs followed by ODM with 62.
Debate on the bill started on Tuesday but many MPs have kept off while some have openly said they will not pass it despite direction from their party leaders.
Those opposed to the bill claim it will open a door for "slay queens to slay or massage their way into the national assembly".
Others have described it the epitome of laziness in complying with the constitutional requirement. But the women lobby has put up a spirited fight in defence of the bill.
The bill is se to be put to vote on Wednesday next week. It requires a two-thirds majority or 233 of the 349 MPs in the National Assembly to amend Article 97 of the Constitution and pave way for additional nomination slots for women other than the current 12.
Jubilee and ODM have called Parliamentary Group meetings on Tuesday to try and whip their MPs to attend Wednesday’s sitting and approve the proposed amendment which will see another 21 women nominated to Parliament.
The Bill requires the support of 233 MPs (two thirds of all the members) to pass. If it sails through and the President assents to it, it will be effective after the 2022 General Election.
Analysts are skeptical the bill will attract enough support.
Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association chairlady Wangui Ngirici yesterday told the Star that President Uhuru and Deputy President William Ruto will hold a meeting with the Jubilee Parliamentary Group.
She expressed optimism that the quorum will be achieved.
"I am aware that leaders of political parties have committed to hold Parliamentary Group meetings where members will be whipped over this matter. I can assure you that we will achieve the quorum on that day. I can feel it," the Kirinyaga Woman Representative said.
"The President of Kenya took an oath to protect this Constitution and he will certainly do that on this particular matter,” she added.
The KEWOPA leadership was early this week assured of support by Nasa principals Raila (ODM), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper).
Yesterday, Raila observed that Parliament has continuously violated the rights of women by denying them more seats.
“The bill 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.
Co-principals Musyoka and Mudavadi said the bill’s benefits outweigh the costs.
“If passed into law, the bill will streamline the activities of not only women but all Kenyans in national politics and policy making,” Musalia said.
Kalonzo said Parliament risks being dissolved because it is not properly constituted as required by the two-thirds gender rule.
"I’m aware some of your male colleagues have in the past frustrated the passing of the bill through outright refusal to support it or by simply walking out during voting so as to deprive the House of the requisite numbers required for it to pass," Kalonzo observed.
ODM chairman John Mbadi and Ford Kenya secretary general Simiyu Eseli affirmed to the Star that they will hold separate Parliamentary Group meetings next week to persuade their members to vote for the bill.
Eseli’s statement is the only indication so far that Ford Kenya party leader Moses Wetangúla also supports the bill.
The conspicuous presence of the Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs, Rachel Shebesh, in Parliament since the introduction of the bill is seen as a sign of Uhuru’s commitment to have the bill approved.
On Wednesday, she was spotted at the speaker’s gallery keenly taking notes of the proceedings during the debate. She was also spotted interacting with MPs at the members’ lounge and dinning hall.
A spirited debate took place on the floor of the House as several lawmakers openly opposed the bill.
Endebess MP Robert Pukose, opposing the bill, warned that additional representation would cost Kenyans heavily.
"We need to consider the cost that Kenyans will incur to cater for this representation. It is a high time that we consider the number of Kenyans that are going to be introduced to this House. I therefore oppose," Pukose said.
Nominated MP David Ole Sankok also opposed the bill, arguing that only those close to the political party leadership will benefit from the extra slots.
But MPs Esther Passaris (Nairobi), Alice Wahome (Kandara) Sabina Chege (Murang’a), Janet Ong’era (Kisii) and Faith Gitau (Nyandarua) countered the opponents, arguing that the bill is beneficial to the country.
Wahome said: “Let’s affirm the position of the boy child because marginalization can also catch up with him. In 2016, the Supreme Court gave this House up to August 2016 to come up with this legislation but it has never happened.”
Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa trashed the bill, saying it lacked modalities for picking the women to attain the threshold.
Barasa expressed fear that if the Bill sails through as it is, women at the grassroots would be denied the opportunity to determine the suitable persons who would represent them in the House.
"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 her in Parliament. It instead grants political parties’ leadership powers to bring slay queens through nominations," Barasa said.
"The Bill does not provide a formula on how the 22 slots meant for women will be filled. 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.
Speaking during a Citizen TV panel interview on Wednesday, nominated MP Jennifer Shamalla queried how the representation will be achieved.
"My argument stems from the fact that we feel the legislature is bloated but where is the balance to enable us get representation for women, youth and marginalized groups?" Shamalla asked.
"What is unfair is that there is dehumanization of MPs. They have been called MPigs. Now, nominated MPs are being called ‘Slay queens," she protested.
A section of lawmakers who spoke to the Star at Parliament buildings were cagey on whether they support or are opposed to the two-third gender principle for fear of being blacklisted by their political parties and their electorate.
"If I say I support this principle, my people will think that I am one of those who want to increase the wage bill of this country. But if I say I don’t support it, I will have a hard time with my party leadership. I reserve my comments and wish to make my decision during the voting," an MP said.
Currently, there are 76 women in the National Assembly — 23 elected MPs, 47 woman representatives and six nominated MPs. The Senate has 21 women senators who include 19 nominated and three elected members. The National Assembly has 349 members while the Senate has 67.