GENDER PARITY

Many women outshine men, don't let another gender bill flop

However, a recent bill to ensure gender parity was dismissed by the Senate’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee.

In Summary

• Some MPs and senators are now calling for the scrapping of the principle from the Constitution, which would push us way back in the past.

• It would be a dangerous precedent that would justify discrimination on the basis of gender in all aspects of life.

Gender Equality
Gender Equality
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED:

Gender discrimination persists in our Parliament and other organs of governance and the implementation of Article 81 of the Constitution remains a mirage.

This is why the BBI report is calling for either of the governor or running mate be a woman. However, a recent bill to ensure gender parity was dismissed by the Senate’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee.

Similar attempts by the National Assembly have come to a cropper. It is obvious if Parliament were to take a vote on this issue, women would be outnumbered and men would easily have their way. Such a scenario often manifests itself with regard to power relations between and amongst dominant and socially oppressed groups, especially in times of transition such as the current scenario. It is a hurdle that previously marginalised groups have to contend with in their quest to increase their political space.

Some MPs and senators are now calling for scrapping the gender fairness principle from the Constitution, which would take us way back in the past. It would be a dangerous precedent that would justify discrimination on the basis of gender in all aspects of life, including the right to own property such as land for the girl child.

This was not what Kenyans, the majority of whom are women, desired when they voted in the 2010 Constitution. This rule is for posterity. And while it may be convenient for the male-dominated Parliament to argue their case as is, as fathers, most of the MPs would shudder to imagine a situation where in the future, their daughters or granddaughters are denied opportunities for leadership simply on account of their gender, due to systemic patriarchal cultural practices.

Women have come a long way in agitating for their inclusion in governance. They have sacrificed a lot as individuals and as a group, at times including their marriages and careers, to advance their cause towards gender equity and long-term gender equality.

Under the 2010 Constitution, Kenya has moved from a situation where women and other marginalised groups such as persons living with disabilities are given positions as tokens. Political participation is a right derived from the principles and values of the Constitution. In fact, the Constitution mentions women nine times.

Arguments have been made to the effect that post-electoral party lists have led to the nomination of ‘girlfriends’ and bootlickers of senior political party officials. Others have argued that only urban women will dominate the lists at the expense of their rural counterparts. While it is true that past nominations have been marred by such malpractices, this is the opportune moment to correct that by instituting sound nomination rules through the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and a robust party primaries bill that I m working on with the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties.

The rules should ensure parties practise internal democracy and that the rural-urban divide, regional balance, disability status and educational qualifications are factored in the party lists. This way, the rural, pastoralist, Muslim and women living with disabilities, amongst other intra-women divisions, shall be adequately represented.

Kenyan women — urban and rural — are quite advanced and sophisticated. It is, therefore, an application of double standards for the male MPs to argue that an increased number of women MPs shall lower the quality of debate.

This cannot be further from the truth with women MPs such as Martha Karua, Charity Ngilu, Millie Odhiambo, Agnes Zani, Sylvia Kassanga, Alice Wahome and Gladys Wanga, among others. They have demonstrated great oratory and debating skills on matters that touch on Wanjiku and the country.

It is to be noted as well that there are elected (often male) MPs who have made a name for themselves by their silence, or worse, their jumbled thinking — let's not call it pubic speaking, certainly it's not oratory. They are outshone by far on the floor of the House as their nominated counterparts — often women.

In fact, in a recent ranking by the Mzalendo Trust, a parliamentary watchdog group, six out of nine winners were women and interestingly, 13 of the finalists were nominated (male and female), while 11 were from the counties or constituencies. In the Senate, for example, the majority of the bills, motions and statements are generated by women, most of them nominated.

Women have already paid a heavy price to be elected to Parliament. For instance, the 47 women representatives contest at the county level. This means they campaign within the same geographical area as the governor and senator yet end up serving as other ordinary MPs who campaign in their respective geographical constituencies only.

It is important to point out that there is a direct covariance of increased development with the participation of women in economic activities and governance. Women are known to provide leadership in many households across the country and have acted as strong pillars of our society.

The time to act is now, 2020. Lets not wait for 2022.