GENDER EQUALITY

Woman rep post ill-thought-out

It might be a good idea in theory, in practice it does not work well.

In Summary
  • Many WReps are taken less seriously because the public thinks they got their position through connections and an easier race.
  • Voters less likely to vote for a woman running for regular seat because they know they’ll have at least one woman representative.
A country is like a plane that needs twin engines for it to move and counter currents. Men and women must be involved in leadership for our Kenyan plane to gain speed, move forward and reach its destination.
Priscilla Nyokabi, member of the National Gender Equality Commission

Gender imbalance is a problem that cannot be ignored. While total gender parity cannot happen overnight, it is a goal that we must constantly be striving towards.

The thought that better representation for women in government can only be attained in Western countries such as Canada, New Zealand and the Scandinavian states is ludicrous. We are lagging behind Rwanda, where more than 60 per cent of parliamentarians are women. Gender parity is something that each nation across the globe, however developed, should always work on.

Young girls need role models in leadership positions. Without them, the cycle of male power will be perpetuated. The economic potential of a more gender-equal society is immense. As President Uhuru Kenyatta noted in his Mombasa speech, we need to make a fundamental shift away from politics and focusing on the economy.

Succession politics is all we hear about these days yet it is simply not a pressing issue. There won’t be elections for another two years, but so much can fluctuate in the economy in the meantime. And the more women get involved, the more they are educated, trained, hired, elected, and made to feel – rightly so – that their role in society is no less important than men, the more prosperous we will all become.

How can a country expect to become middle income if half of its adult citizens are not reaching their full potential? Luckily, we already have many laws in place to protect women’s role in public life. Women are certainly allowed to do anything that men can. The problem is that social norms and outdated ideas often prevent this potential from actualising.

That is why we need the government to intervene and make change happen. It should work like this: The administration takes the first step, and society follows in its footsteps. Uhuru’s recent Cabinet reshuffle was a strong first move. Out of 15 new Chief Administrative Secretary nominations, eight are now women. In addition, the Industrialisation CS docket is now filled by Betty Maina. She is the seventh female Cabinet secretary out of a 21-person cabinet.

If the principle is good but the implementation is broken, we need to come up with ways to fix it. This is one of societal problems that the administration has been working on getting to the root of through the BBI. Yes, things could be better but it is not an insurmountable challenge. It will, however, take a lot of effort and less fighting. More unity, less vitriol.

Critics from across the political spectrum are already hailing it as an important move, sending a clear signal to women that they are not only capable of – but welcome to – carry out the same roles as men. Furthermore, it indicates to women that it is their civic duty to serve in the public sector.

But we cannot celebrate yet. More still needs to be done. The Ethiopian and Rwandan parliaments are already made up half of women. Rwandan President Kagame said this progress was instrumental in reducing discrimination and gender-based crime. Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed has said gender parity in his cabinet shows women respect and reinforces the fact that they are just as able leaders as men.

The electoral system in Kenya still needs some work though to make the situation better for women leaders. Right now we have the WReps system in place, whereby a voter will always have a list of women on the ballot to elect one. While this might be a good idea in theory, in practice it does not work well.

Many WReps are taken less seriously because the public thinks they got their position through connections and an easier race. Voters are oftentimes less likely to vote for a woman running for a regular seat since they know they will have at least one woman representative anyway, so why make the extra effort?

 

If the principle is good but the implementation is broken, we need to come up with ways to fix it. This is one of societal problems that the administration has been working on getting to the root of through the BBI. Yes, things could be better but it is not an insurmountable challenge. It will, however, take a lot of effort and less fighting. More unity, less vitriol.

To quote Priscilla Nyokabi, a member of the National Gender Equality Commission, “a country is like a plane that needs twin engines for it to move and counter currents. Men and women must be involved in leadership for our Kenyan plane to gain speed, move forward and reach its destination.” The destination is not far away. But the engines to help us reach it have got to work well.