WAINAINA: Without plan to attain gender parity, next Parliament likely to be unconstitutional

The country is moving towards the election without achieving the provisions of the two-thirds rule.

In Summary

• The Constitution guarantees equal rights of men and women and representation

• However, data shows women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making

The August 9, 2022  General Election will be the third since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

The election, as other countries have one, will be held in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic as we are not yet out of the woods yet.

In spite of that, it is widely and legitimately expected by Kenyans that the country will conduct the elections credibly, transparently and democratically, as a vital path to consolidate democracy in line with 2010 Constitution.

The Constitution guarantees equal rights of men and women but data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making, and that achieving gender parity in politics is far off.

This is despite women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life being essential in achieving the principles of inclusion,  and equality as provided for in the Constitution and in realising sustainable development goals by 2030. It is also a violation of the 2010 Constitution and contravention of Article 9 (2) of the Maputo Protocol.

There is an established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making transform society.

Balanced political participation and power-sharing between genders is also the internationally agreed target set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Further, the Constitution  has enacted the two-thirds gender principle, which as not been realised due to impunity.

At its core, the legal and regulatory framework in the country guarantees equity and privileges the rights of all to fairness and fair representation.  

The 2022 General Election is a pivotal moment for realising gender parity in the electoral system. Sadly, the country is moving towards the election without achieving the provisions of the two-thirds rule.

And if we go into the election without clarity on this provision, there is a good chance the next Parliament will also be declared unconstitutional. The time to fix this issue is now.

In the 2013 General Election, there were not a single woman elected senator, and it was only in 2017 that three were elected — Uasin Gishu’s Margaret Kamar, Nakuru’s Susan Kihika and Isiolo’s Fatuma Dullo.

There were also no elected governor until Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and now the late Joyce Laboso (Bomet) won in 2017 polls.

In 2017, 29 per cent more women ran for office than in the previous election, a fact that led to the largest number of women ever seated in all levels.

Women now hold 172 of the 1,883 elective seats in Kenya, up from 145 after the 2013 elections. Despite these gains, it is abundantly clear that significant obstacles remain for women seeking elective office.

Although the Constitution mandates that all appointed and elected institutions contain at least one-third women, their actual representation falls short of that threshold.

Women account for partly 23 per cent of the National Assembly and Senate membership, a figure that includes seats reserved exclusively for woman representatives.

The numbers remain abysmally very low and discouraging.  

By now, we all know the reasons why women do not get elected. We know how to fix this problem.

First, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission must put standardised rules and regulations in place that will ensure political parties conduct fair nominations and promote equal representation of all special interest groups, as set out in Article 100 of the Constitution. Streamlining the legal framework governing gender equality will be critical to this endeavour.

Second, efforts to improve female representation in politics and leadership are hindered by male dominance in the opaque decision making system.

What is really needed is an approach that tackles the underlying and interconnected barriers that women face in getting nominated for elected office and conducting successful campaigns.

Running is not winning. We also know that outrage alone cannot produce the kind of steady progress needed to achieve political equality. To have more women in Parliament, changes that run deeper than the current institutional structures and political systems will be needed.

Third, political parties are at the centre of facilitating the entry and ensuring the meaningful inclusion of women in electoral politics. Unfortunately, parties are only paying lip service to women and gender equality. In fact, they have specialised in tokenism to meet minimum legal requirements. Parties must be compelled to comply with the IEBC regulations and adhere to the two-thirds gender principle.

Fourth, since the Constitution provides for the gender equality principle, the IEBC and Registrar of Political Parties must ensure intra-party structures and processes meet gender equity.

They must also ensure candidate identification, selection and nomination adhere to gender equity requirements and provide an environment conducive for fair primaries.

The system of allocating seats to address specific inequities requires parties to work under the supervision of the IEBC. There has to be consequences for failure to adhere to gender parity. IEBC has all constitutional powers on election matters.

Fifth, the high cost of elections has a direct bearing on gender equality and electoral democracy. Parties see nominations as business ventures and women are adversely affected by the high cost of elections.

Campaign financing is prohibitively high for most aspirants, regardless of gender. But women seem to have it worse. The Inter-Parliamentary Union has found that female candidates view lack of finance as a more significant deterrent to entering politics than their male counterparts do.

This problem is severe because male candidates can spend almost unlimited amounts to get elected. Wealthy candidates (usually men) finance their own campaigns, but women mostly rely on their husbands’/families’ fortunes. Overall, this system disadvantages them. There has to be a funding mechanism to finance women.

Six, there has to be gender proportionality in the election. All presidential and gubernatorial candidates must adhere to gender parity by, for example, having running mates of opposite gender.

Further, parties must adopt a nomination process that is fair to women and to make a commitment to reserve 30 per cent of their seats in their strongholds for women. Women are not seeking favours and or sympathy but we need a Zebra approach in all elective and appointive positions. 

Finally, the scourge of widespread and systematic gender-based violence against women is deeply rooted in discrimination against women and continues to shape the lives of female politicians. 

It has a devastating effect not only on the women and their families, but also on democracy itself.

Violence against women in politics has chilling effect and violates women’s human right to live free from violence in political and public life. It affects the realisation of all other human rights, including the ability of elected women to represent their constituents effectively.

To address the chilling impact that violence against women has on their political participation and on human rights, there is an urgent and real need to design, adopt and enforce laws and policies that will combat and prevent violence against them to guarantee their equal participation of in political and public life.

There can be no immunity for crimes against women in elections. 

The writer is a co-convenor, Linda Katiba Movement