By Jim India
The Emerging Leaders Foundation Africa (ELF-Africa) exists to empower, support, and accompany young women and men to achieve meaningful, dignified, and impactful participation in governance, economy, and public affairs at all levels of society.
It is not lost on us the long and tumultuous journey that women must endure to get the same level of participation, representation, and respect as their male counter parts – this explains the emphasis in all our programs to highlight the plight of women and onboard male allies in the fight for gender equity.
The 2017 elections did represent a step forward for women’s representation, compared to the elections in 2013, more women won seats at all levels, except for the presidential race, which remained exclusively male.
Three women made history by winning the gubernatorial seat, while another three won the senate seat – while more women were elected to the national and county assemblies (23 members of the national assembly in 2017 vs. 16 in 2013 and 96 members of county assemblies in 2017 vs. 82 in 2013). While this was a cause for celebration, it was also a reminder of the long struggle women have and continue to endure and the need for civil society actors and others to continue holding space for women.
It is worth noting that women comprised just 9.2 percent of the 1,835 elected individuals in 2017, a marginal increase from 7.7 percent in 2013.
Kenya’s legal framework lays a firm foundation for the principles of gender equity and equality in the country’s politics and government. The Constitution of Kenya, adopted in 2010, contains a provision that no elective body shall have more than two thirds of its members from the same gender (Article 27). This key provision is supported by other articles within the Constitution, upheld by legislation regulating elections and political parties, judicial decisions, and complemented by a body of international treaties and conventions.
Unfortunately, this critical legal standard of gender equity and equality has not been completely met. Parliament is yet to pass legislation that would bring its own two houses – the National Assembly and the Senate – in line with the Constitution’s “two-thirds rule.” Amendments to the Elections Act and the Political Parties Act (PPA) have improved the regulatory environment but remain inadequate, lacking meaningful incentives and enforcement mechanisms.
Compliance among political parties and the parliament continues to be problematic, despite Supreme Court rulings mandating implementation of the two-thirds rule. Although the 2017 elections were the second to be held since the Constitution’s passage, women still comprise less than 33 percent of the parliament, consequently, the former Chief Justice David Maraga, acting upon Article 261(7), advised the president in 2020 to dissolve parliament for failing to enact legislation in accordance with Article 27 of the constitution, which would address longstanding issues of gender discrimination and enhance the place of women in appointive and elective offices (http://kenyalaw.org/kenyalawblog/chief-justices-advice-to-the-president-on-dissolution-of-parliament/ ).
Looking into 2022 elections and the future, we will not only need a conducive legal framework, but also a genuine political willingness. We take note of recent developments in the political scene in Kenya, where both leading Presidential candidates considered women for the running mate/Deputy Presidential aspirant position.
Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga’s first female Governor) and former Devolution Cabinet Secretary was considered as a possible candidate to deputise Kenya Kwanza Presidential candidate, William Ruto – she emerged runners up in the final decision.
While the Azimio la Umoja presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, considered Murang’a Women Representative, Sabina Chege, Kitui County’s first woman Governor and former Cabinet Secretary, Charity Ngilu and former Gichugu member of parliament Martha Karua. It is both encouraging and commendable that Martha Karua ultimately emerged as the preferred running mate to Mr. Odinga, another milestone on the road to a more equal society in political representation.
Women aspirants and candidates continue to face a hostile political environment, including propaganda, smear campaigns, and violence. Many lack sufficient finances to run for office, yet still they do run, leveraging on their track record and connections in their communities. We are particularly concerned about the vulnerability of women to violence and urge state actors that all necessary actions must be taken to safeguard the life of women.
While we continue to call for more discipline within political parties especially during thus vote hunting season, we also maintain that women and allies of women development and equality, must maintain vigilance during this electioneering period. The increased number of women who have offered themselves to run either through political parties or as independents candidates, is a testament that the time is ripe, and the people are ready to actualize the aspirations of Article 27 and 100 of the constitution of Kenya.
We commend the National Police Service for committing to provide extra security to all women aspirants across the country in a bid to reduce or better still eliminate all forms of electoral violence against women during this campaign period.
We have also seen various political parties slash nomination fees for women and youth aspirants, in appreciation of their limited access to the much-needed campaign resources, a factor that from time immemorial has reduced their chance for ever running for elective office.
All these efforts as laudable as they are should only be the beginning; because depending on which of the leading coalitions majority of Kenyans choose as their ruling coalition in the August polls, as a country we still have a long way to go in levelling the playing field and elevating the place of women in elective politics, even just by regional comparison.
Our neighbours in Uganda had their first female vice president as far back as 1994 in the name of Dr. Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe, and she was not a lone ranger. It’s short comings notwithstanding, President Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement has brought more women to the centre of the leadership circle in Uganda. Not long after Dr. Kazibwe’s appointment, the Rt. Hon. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga was made speaker of the national assembly, a role she served in for two five-year terms.
Today, Uganda has at least four women in the top five national positions; Vice President Her Excellency Jessica Alupo, Prime Minister and leader of Government Business in parliament Hon. Robinah Nabbanja, first Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community Affairs Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, and third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister without portfolio Hon. Lukia Isanga Nakadama.
On the other side of Kenya’s border in Rwanda, there have been great milestones in entrenching women leadership in national politics. In fact, Rwanda is ranked as the leading country with highest number women in national leadership, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s annual Women in Parliament report of March 2021. Women make up to sixty-one percent of Rwanda’s parliament. In Africa Rwanda is followed by South Africa.
Rwanda is a role model for its rate of women’s participation in the government.Martin Chugog, Secretary-General, Inter-Parliamentary Union
In Tanzania Samia Suluhu Hassan made history when she became the country’s first female vice president in 2015. As fate would have it, she is now the Tanzania’s first female head of state, only the first in East Africa and in great company of her African trailblazers like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Joyce Banda of Malawi, and Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic. Tanzania made history in yet another field they elected their first female speaker, Anne Makinda in 2010. In February this year, this was cemented with the election of 45-year-old Dr. Tulia Ackson as the second female speaker of Tanzania’s parliament.
As such, while the nominations of Martha Wangari Karua, Irene Ngendo, Ruth Mutua as running mates for Raila Odinga, Reuben Kigame, and Mwaure Waihiga respectively is a great start, more politicians and political parties need to be more intentional in this.
That women make up half of the world’s population and yet they are still largely excluded from politics and decision-making power, should no longer be okay, especially in Kenya where we have been praised for having one of the most progressive constitutions alive. We must make every effort possible to contribute our fair share to achieve the target of having gender equality in politics by 2030
Society must embrace this diversity, accept that leadership acumen is not a preserve of one gender. As a matter of fact, many women who have been given the opportunity to lead have been seen to do more than their average male counterparts.
May it be that deliberate efforts by political parties and the Kenyan voter will reward this country with its own version of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Joyce Banda, Catherine Samba-Panza, Samia Suluhu Hassan, Jacinda Arden, Angela Merkel, and Nancy Pelosi.
Jim is the Programs Manager at ELF-Africa, he is a strategic thought leader passionate about transformative leadership in Africa, and analyses Kenyan politics