REFERENDUM DEBATE

Constitution review must increase women representation in politics

To empower Kenya and drive it forward, Kenyan women have to be empowered.

In Summary

• The most recent census confirmed that women slightly outnumber men. In fact, they are half a million more than men. Party lists should include women. 

• And although they did better in the 2017 General Election, they are still sorely underrepresented at all levels.

Gender balance
Gender balance

“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens,” Former US First Lady Michelle Obama said at the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

The most recent census confirmed that women slightly outnumber men. In fact, they are half a million more than men.

And although they did better in the 2017 elections, they are still sorely underrepresented at all levels. After those elections, women now hold 172 of all 1,883 elected seats in Kenya, up from 145 after the 2013 polls.

This means they do not even hold 10 per cent of all elected seats.

The situation is better in the National Assembly, but only because of exclusively held reserved seats.

Nevertheless, the current system is failing to adequately address the issue of female representation and the County Woman Representative seat provides many with the feeling that the issue is dealt with when in fact it is merely stagnating.

We need a bold vision to enact the necessary change in the status of women in Kenya.

At the recent opening of the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “Empowering women essentially empowers all our families. It empowers our societies. It empowers our nations. It empowers our world.”

So, the question is how to empower women but in a way that is fair and equal and abolishes the tokenism that has been a part of our politics for far too long.

The answer might lie in constitutional reform.

It is reported that one idea considered by the Building Bridges Initiative is a reform of our electoral system that would introduce a form of proportional representation.

This means that at the county level, each party will draw up lists of candidates, the general public will compare lists and determine which is the strongest. Instead of voting in each constituency for one candidate — and only the winner gets a seat in Parliament — voting would be done at the county level and the number of seats won by each party would be directly proportional to the percentage of votes gained.

This means there would be room for different types of people on each list, and it won’t reflect the current system where those considered most likely to win become the sole candidate. These people are overwhelmingly male.

In 2017, only nine per cent of all candidates were female.

As the gender analysis of the 2017 Kenya General Election makes clear, a number of factors discourage the participation of women in elections. This includes inadequate support from political parties (particularly in the primaries), lack of financial resources, gender stereotyping and patriarchal structures.

Some of these factors can be directly addressed by a proportional representation system.

It is here that we can and should impose the two-thirds gender rule, whereby the members of the list in each county can be no more than two-thirds of either gender.

If properly implemented, it would ensure a far greater representation of women in the National Assembly. It would ensure each party has to seek out strong and effective women for national political life.

This will certainly embolden women, whose membership in the senior ranks of the different parties would swell. It will naturally mean our national political parties will have to think more about how best to attract women to their lists.

Proportional representation might not be the silver bullet for absolute equal representation, but it can certainly level the playing field.

It is hoped that eventually there will be a situation where quotas will not be required and that there will always be more than a third and as much as a half organically because each party will need to fight over who has the most representative list.

To empower Kenya and drive it forward, Kenyan women have to be empowered.

A greater and fairer representation can only be good for the women of Kenya, and this, in turn, will be a blessing for our nation as a whole. We have so much more to contribute.

MP Igembe North