QUALIFIED WOMEN ABOUND

Benchmark with Homa Bay and save billions in gender top-up

If we do not elect more women, we must pay through the nose for gender top-up.

In Summary

• If we go to the polls and elect 120 women out of the 360 MPs, we will not need to nominate anyone!

• BBI proposes a portion of the Political Parties Fund be distributed based on the number of women elected. This is a huge incentive for parties to get as many women on the ballot as possible

Reform is a bitter pill to swallow. Reforms change our way of life and awaken us to new realities, so we often have to be dragged through reform processes like goats to slaughter, bleating and protesting.

 

But in the year of our Lord 2020, we can no longer pretend we can run a country or world anchored on gender disparity.

This is the angle from which everyone must see the BBI proposal to nominate as many women as it takes to achieve one third of the total number of elected.

A casual glance shows that if you add the new 70 constituencies proposed in the BBI report, there will be a total of 360 constituencies, and if all of the 360 elected are men, we will have to nominate a  180 women to get a third of that house!

It is difficult to see what other avenue is available in our cutthroat politics to reach that number.

And considering the cacophony of noises coming from the direction of BBI opponents, it is safe to say they don’t know either!

But there is another way, one that isn't mentioned in the mainstream as much as the perceived difficulties and exorbitant resource needs of these proposed nominations

If we go to the polls and elect 120 women out of the 360 MPs, we will not need to nominate anyone!

Simply put, if we do not go to the polls to elect more women, we must be ready to pay through the nose for the gender top-up, because the era of paying lip service to the matter of gender parity is gone for good!

 

Every small demographic unit in the larger society is considered a microcosm of that society. If that holds true, then in our Kenyan society, we can examine the success of Homa Bay county in achieving the numbers,

We can seek a way to replicate that across the country. Of eight elected MPs in Homa Bay county, three are women.

They are Eve Obara (Kabondo Kasipul), Lilian Gogo (Rangwe) and Millie Odhiambo (Suba North).

Honourable Obara was once the CEO of the Kenya Literature Bureau, Hon Gogo was a university lecturer, and Hon Odhiambo is a lawyer, child rights activist and firebrand politician.

So from the onset, they are not just women, but achievers in their own right. The most important lesson here is that there are many more Obaras, Gogos and Odhiambos spread out across the country. It is not for lack of electable women achievers that we don’t have them in Parliament!

I was privileged to be invited to the launch of a book by former Karachuonyo MP, Hon Phoebe Asiyo, at State House in August 2018.

The book, It Is Possible: An African Woman Speaks, details Asiyo’s journey of life, including as a pioneer woman leader and professional in the early days before and immediately after Independence.

During the launch, she narrated a story of a day when she and some colleagues planned a meeting with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in the early days of self-rule when the independent government was just being formed.

At the meeting, they intended to lobby Mzee Kenyatta for a 50-50 representation in government!

Hearing her story, I couldn’t help marvelling at the fact that pioneer women leaders in f the early days of the young nation actually wanted a 50-50 gender balance, yet 60 years later, we are still engaged in long winding arguments about 30 per cent!

Political party leaders must take half the blame.

Even in cases where their word is law in their tribal blocs, these leaders have done little to push the women's agenda in their party primaries. But to imagine that gender disparity is merely an elective problem is to miss the point by a mile.

In government, where such appointments should be straightforward, and where the qualified women are much more visible, the President and his surrogates haven’t done much to show commitment.

I dare say, the wakeup call on the elective front must have been Chief Justice David Maraga’s advisory to dissolve Parliament. Let us see nominations for what they really are.

The nominated women members, unlike their elected counterparts, will not have a CDF fund to run. So in a way, this is shallow empowerment.

In fact, BBI proposes that a certain portion of the political parties fund will be distributed based on the number of women elected.

This is a huge incentive for parties to get as many women on the ballot as possible, while also pushing for real empowerment, not just lip service.

You can glean which party on the landscape is already working on this by revamping its women league.

Political party leaders like to hide behind the excuse that not many women, especially the achieving type, present themselves for elective positions in their parties.

Women on the other hand have lamented the rough political terrain, including violence and favouritism, which hamper their entry into electoral contests.

Whatever the case, the country must address the socio-cultural and political barriers that keep women away, or we must agree to foot the cost of our collective folly. This means paying for a huge number of nominated women until we understand that we live in a new world!

In the meantime, the same way our leaders visit Israel, Brazil, South Africa, Rwanda and Dubai to benchmark on one issue or another, the rest of the country is welcome to visit counties like Homa Bay and Murang'a. 

There the numbers currently reflect the gender equation and they can study the factors that make them tick.

These are local solutions to local problems. If the problems revolve around cultural structures, political party set-ups, local clan dynamics or just fear, we must address them and have at least 120 women out of 360 MPs (if BBI passes) elected at the ballot, rather than wait for nominations.

We must educate our people that there is room to address the issue of an expanded legislature, and this power is in the voter’s hand.

Those who oppose BBI or are concerned about what they call 'an expensive Parliament' have a great chance to help push for success 'in the first round at the ballot. We will all be better off, and our core values as an evolving society will be reflected if we manage this.

Ajuok is a political commentator