Why Kenyan MPs shot down gender bill

Kasarani Mp John Njoroge Chege . PHOTO: JONAH ONYANGO

Political intrigue, chauvinism and apathy contributed to the shooting down a bill that would have given women more seats in the House.

Members of Parliament opposed to the Gender Bill ganged up to boycott the vote, despite months of lobbying for the proposal meant to comply with Article 27 of the Constitution.

Female MPs were left smarting from the defeat conjured up by their male colleagues who said the bill was an affront to democracy, as it would give women ‘free seats’.

Some MPs walked to the National Assembly’s Private Members bar where they sipped beer, hugged and cheered as the Speaker declared the vote lost by failing to meet the two thirds constitutional threshold.

Out of the 199 members present, 178 voted yes, 16 voted no and five abstained.

John Njoroge (Kasarani) said he boycotted the vote as the bill gave room for people to nominate their ‘girlfriends’ to the House.

“This House is already bloated. This is another way of giving people’s girlfriends free tickets. Women should fight on an equal footing with men,” he said.

Wesley Korir (Cherangany) said the constitutional requirement of two thirds does not augur well for democracy in the country.

“We already have women in the House and their performance is below par. We do not have to fill the numbers in the House. Kenyans are entitled to quality representation,” said Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem).

“We already have a big problem in the House on huge numbers. Rather than increasing the numbers, we should be talking about cutting the parliamentary seats. We are over represented and even those currently in parliament hardly get time to contribute in the House,” said Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills).

Women MPs expressed disappointment that the bill had failed.

“Clearly the Government has to do more. Those who failed to come to the House did not only fail the women of Kenya but the country as a whole,” said Alice Wahome (Kandara).

Deserve Better

“As Kewopa (Kenya Women Parliamentary Association), we did our best to lobby members. However, this bill was presented as if it was a women-only bill which is not the case. Gender parity includes even men. Everybody should have supported the bill,” said Cecily Mbarire (Runyenjes).

Rose Nyamunga (Kisumu) said Kenyan women deserved better.

“It is sad that this bill did not pass. As women of this country, we feel let down, but we hope that we will get a way forward,” she said.

Millie Odhiambo (Mbita) termed it a ‘temporary setback’.

“We are going to lobby even more. Those who are saying they need younger women in Parliament should know that we were also young when we came here,” she said.

Having been defeated, Parliament has the option of reintroducing the bill within six months or turning to a similar bill sponsored by the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee.

It was not clear why many Jubilee MPs boycotted the vote despite the bill being government-sponsored legislation.

Some MPs blamed political intrigue within the ruling coalition for the defeat of the bill.

The bill was lost despite being brought to the House for the second time in as many weeks.

Moses Kuria (Gatundu South) termed the defeat of the Bill ‘a big day for Kenya’.

To achieve the two thirds gender principle envisaged in the Constitution, the current Parliament needs 117 women out of the total Members of Parliament.

With 47 women representatives, four nominated and 16 elected women, the National Assembly has 67 women, which is 50 short of the magical 117.

In a scenario where no woman is elected to Parliament in the next General Election, political parties will need to nominate 70 women to add to the 47 woman representatives to bring the number to 117.