BY LUCY KIBAKI
I have been keenly following the unfolding debate on the representation
of women in elective public bodies as provided for in our new constitution.
As it is widely acknowledged the world over, one of the most effective
ways of empowering women is to increase their representation in decision
making organs such as legislatures.
Increasing the number of women in decision making organs facilitates the
mainstreaming of gender issues and consequently leads to improvement of
the lives of women.
As has again been widely acknowledged, the empowerment of women will
result in the overall well being of society. Indeed, no society can hope
to develop and realize its optimal potential if over half the population
is marginalized and disempowered.
The need to empower women through representation in elective and other
public bodies that offer leadership, therefore, need not be belaboured.
From this point of view, the spirit of the new constitution in providing
in Article 81 (b) that no more than two-thirds of members of elective
bodies shall be of the same gender therefore points to the direction
that we should take as a nation as pertains to increasing the number of women
However, while the spirit of this provision is welcome, it has become
increasingly clear that Article 81 (b) of the new constitution cannot be
implemented in its current form. This is because the implementation of
this law will contravene other articles of the constitution and
compromise the democratic process.
In particular, the implementation of this law would contravene Article
38 (2) that grants every citizen the right to free and fair elections based
on universal suffrage. Thus, voters who would get aggrieved for being
constrained to freely contest for election in order to create room for
women will seek recourse to the court process.
As all Kenyans will readily agree there is no country in the world where
one gender is barred from contesting an election in order to give way
for another gender to have an easy access to the legislature. Any such law
would be undemocratic and unconstitutional.
But the apparent impracticality of implementing this law does not mean
there is no way of increasing women representation in elective bodies.
As Kenyans are aware, there are workable electoral designs that are in use
in other parts of the world that can be used to achieve the goal of
increasing the number of women in the legislature.
In the aftermath of the impracticality of Article 81 (b), therefore, the
challenge before us as a nation is to explore other practical avenues
that can be adapted to our local circumstances and applied to not only
increase the representation of women but also other marginalized groups in our
As Kenyans celebrate the first anniversary of the new constitution, it
is important that we explore international best practices so that women are
adequately catered for in the new constitutional dispensation.
As we seek new avenues of enhancing the role of women in leadership, I call upon women in the country to push for realistic reforms that are achievable and that can entail tangible benefits not only for women but also for the country as a whole.
I urge women to work tirelessly for what they want because nothing can
be achieved without hard work. Indeed, sweat and determination is the
surest way of achieving gender equality. Moreover, there is no pride or joy in
being spoon-fed or in receiving things in a silver platter.
I urge women in the country to come out in large numbers and campaign
aggressively for leadership positions rather than leaving the political
arena to be dominated by men.
(Mrs Kibaki is the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya)