BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
For the last two weeks, the main discourse in the country has been on how to achieve the two-thirds gender requirement as prescribed by the Constitution. To a large extent, the debate has turned into a battle of the sexes with women crying foul and men being accused of shortchanging the women.
Women have been disadvantaged for long in the past in relation to elective politics and it is therefore understandable when they passionately pursue this matter. At the same time, the number of women getting into elective politics and eventually getting elected had also grown over the years.
We are however still dragging our feet in relation to affirmative action as a way to increase women representatives as well as catering for other interest groups. Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania are doing well on this as we have also witnessed in other developed countries such as Norway.
Kenya’s 15 percent is an improvement from the previous 9.8 percent representation in the 10th Parliament and the increased numbers can be greatly attributed to the reserved seats for the 47 Women Representatives.
According to the Constitution, no gender should occupy more than two-thirds of elective or appointive seats in all public offices. The Constitution tried to remedy this by creating 47 special seats for women elected in the counties to the National Assembly but the numbers still fell short. In the Senate, all the nominated Senators are women as no single woman was elected to the other house of Parliament.
The Constitution however failed to give a clear formula on how this two-thirds gender rule will be achieved despite giving the August 27, 2015 deadline. The same Constitution in Article 177 gave a more clear formula of achieving this in the County Assemblies by indicating that there would be special seats to achieve the two-thirds gender rule after elections.
One of the options, and which the technical working group suggested, that we probably would want to explore is replacing the Articles on the composition of Parliament with Article 177. This is easy to apply as it can have the Constitution amendment through parliament without incurring the political and financial costs of a referendum.
Given our history as a country, this is a very critical debate in order to have equitable representation of all interests in all public offices. All Kenyans regardless of their gender, tribe, religion or physical ability should be adequately represented and their interests taken care of.
It is therefore critical for us to handle this debate in a very sober manner as we seek a lasting solution that will draw us back to the same dilemma if the tilts ever shift. This debate must be handled in a manner that does not turn Kenyans and especially men and women against each other.
We must ask ourselves very critical questions as we address this issue and as we continue to receive different proposals from the various quarters. Critical of these is whether we can, as a country, afford to nominate more people to Parliament at a time when we are seeking to reduce the wage bill.
Already, we have a large number of nominated leaders in the country both at the national and county levels and who take up tens of millions of shillings monthly as salaries and allowances. It is therefore clear that a solution must be outside creating more nominated seats especially in Parliament.
Another critical question that we must tackle is whether a large number of people in Parliament translate to quality and effective representation. How effective are our current representatives and do they adequately represent our interests?
We must also seek to understand why women are not actively involved in elective politics despite an improved level playing field. There are those who maintain that women are demotivated from running because of threats, lack of financial muscle, question on their marital status and sexuality.
There are areas where women have been discouraged by men to run on the basis of religion especially in the northern parts of Kenya. So another critical question is how do we address these concerns and have more women compete in politics?
Out of 237 candidates in the 2013 elections, there were only 19 women candidates for senatorial and governorship positions. As a result, no women were elected as senator or governor.
Out of the elected 290 elected National Assembly members, just five percent are women though some 165 women battled it out among the men. For the 1,450 ward representatives positions only 88 of the elected candidates were women.
Lastly, we must examine whether women have also taken a back seat and refused to actively take part in politics. Women have to come up and engage in cross party platforms as ways for uniting women beyond party lines and rallying them around a common agenda.
Women leaders must also take an active role in the formation of political parties as well as mobilize other women to register as members and seek positions within the parties. This is one way to show that they are not passive actors of the political process.
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)