What stands in way of realising two-thirds gender requirement

Public Service, Gender and Affirmative Action Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa during the launch of the two-third gender principle, on June 16, 2023, at Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

While celebrating 13 years since the promulgation of Kenya's 2010 Constitution, Katiba Institute highlighted several achievements, some of which demonstrated a greater involvement of women in politics and decision-making. From no women governors in 2013 to seven in 2022, Kenya has undeniably witnessed gradual increase in election of female candidates in other political positions, including eight deputy governors, three senators, 115 MCAs and 29 MPs.

In her article 'Feminist Manifesto', Linda Edmondson argued that democracy is no democracy when half of the population is not fully represented. Similarly, it is an affront to inclusivity and representation when the country's leadership and policymaking structures blatantly abuse Article 27 (8) of the Constitution, which provides that "... the State shall take ... measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender." With such an elaborate provision, there grows the urgency to understand actual bottlenecks that hinder realisation of this significant gender threshold and whether viable remedies exist.

The discourse amongst traditional gender experts, whether with feminist background or not, accuse the country of its deep-seated patriarchy, that promotes male dominance in most public spheres, relegating women to reproductive roles, while men to productive and community ones. This could explain why Parliament doesn't find remorse in offending Article 100 of the Constitution, which directs enactment of laws to guarantee the implementation of this principle. It's contemptuous for the August House to reject nine bills that would have structurally and legally created room to hasten gender reforms.

Currently, it causes concern when some duty bearers and rights holders propagate the myth that an increase in women's participation is synonymous with a decrease in men's involvement, or that gender-sensitive infrastructure (laws and systems) are synonymous with conversations about women.

In actual sense, gender refers to both men and women and a gender-balanced Parliament leads to diverse strategies and better development options for a country as the needs of both men, women, girls, and boys are addressed. If Parliament suffers from, and advances gender misconceptions like these, the country's elective bodies are likely to remain gender imbalanced for much longer.

As such, a progressive approach to implementing this right 13 years after the Constitution was promulgated is not strategic. Parliament should instead embrace practical strategies to realise this right in the short, medium and long term.

For instance, in the short term, the government should support affirmative action strategies like nominations but must invest in capacity building and culture change programmes for long-term gains in collaboration with civil society actors. The state of gender parity in public institutions is almost a replica of Parliament. For instance, Isiolo County has only one woman as a County Executive Committee member, this, is in light of existing affirmative action opportunities.

Is it possible that the country may exceed the 32 per cent of females in the public service only after another jubilee if everything remains constant? This disproportionality must be condemned, especially when women are 51per cent of the Kenyan population.

Systemic exclusion drivers persist, despite vibrant institutional framework that includes National Gender and Equality Commission, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, whose roles in part include oversight to tighten measures against nepotism, tribalism and blatant relegation of people's rights in public appointments, besides implementing affirmative action to ensure better representation.

Gender and cultural norms, reinforced by religious values, heavily influence the way women perceive themselves and how other people respond to their involvement in politics. 'A good woman is soft, speaks humbly, is not contentious and does not fight with men....'. This is experienced in contemporary Kenya where women still find it difficult to speak in community meetings where men are present.

Yet, in the face of political thuggery that defines the very nature of Kenyan politics, a politician must be the stark opposite of the 'woman' image to survive thus entrenching the need for women in politics to delicately exhibit masculinity while maintaining their feminine stances.

The few who pursue politics become victims of gendered attacks, including bullying, body shaming and sexual imagery from their opponents and the citizens at large. In 2022, women MPs reported higher online harassment and abuse as opposed to their male counterparts.

Media framing and projection of women adopts negative and degrading images of women in mainstream media often based on gender stereotypes. Such descriptions of women in politics affects their reputation as political leaders. To reduce this prejudice, the media should provide spaces for women to enhance their expression as well as elaborate their involvement in leadership and decision-making.