Kenyan women leaders want gender bill fast-tracked

Kisumu Deputy Governor Ruth Odinga during an interview at her office in Kisumu. Women leaders want the Affirmative Action Bill fast-tracked to enhance representation of women countrywide. (PHOTO: COLLINS ODUOR/ STANDARD)

Women leaders want the Affirmative Action Bill fast-tracked to enhance representation of women countrywide. This comes as the country celebrates International Women’s Day today.

Kenya Network of Women Governors (KNWG) Chair Ruth Odinga said women should be nominated as governors come 2017.

Ruth, who is also the Kisumu County deputy governor, said there are many able women who can serve as governors.

“We need more women to come out and vie for positions that are male-dominated, like the governor’s position. It is sad that currently, there are no female governors despite the fact that there are those who dared to vie but were not elected,” she said.

She said the Constitution requires there should be at least a third of women in every elective position, adding this time round, more women should vie or be nominated.

“Many women were nominated as MCAs, yet the same did not happen for the governor’s position. We cannot go to the next government without having women as governors. The Constitution stipulates we should have a third of governors as women. If not elected, then the next Government should consider nominating able women for the position,” she said.

Kisumu Woman Representative Rose Nyamunga said gains have been made as far as giving women equal opportunities is concerned, much as Affirmative Action remains an issue that should be looked into.

She said she was optimistic that the bill, which is currently in Parliament will go through.

“We have one more year for Affirmative Action Bill to be passed. Much as I support nomination of women, only those who have come forth to contest for positions should be considered for nomination. Putting a fight in the contest means they will guard the position more,” she said.

She said the Youth and Women Enterprise Funds should be merged and proper structures for monitoring and evaluation put in place.

Nyamunga said many women have failed to capture seats because they are not financially empowered.

She called upon women to continue pushing for financial empowerment and liberation by participating in activities like table banking and businesses.

Nominated MCA Farida Salim said despite the country making steps to implement gender related legal and policy frameworks, there still exists a gap.

“We must keep on talking and engaging more women to vie for elective positions in the forthcoming polls,” she said.

Hostile ground

Salim also called upon the electorate to drum up support for women who will be vying for various positions.

“We are asking voters to give women a chance this time round. In 2013, they gave us a raw deal. We hope to have more elected women leaders in the coming elections,” she said.

Legislators Zipporah Kittony (Nominated), Joy Gwendo (Nominated), Homa Bay MP Gladys Wanga and her Busia counterpart Florence Mutua said a lot still needs to be done to assimilate women in society.

“The challenges are still many. The ground is still hostile to women as male dominance is still strongly felt .The attitude has to change for us to move our agenda forward. We have a lot more to do to see the fruits of our labour. It’s necessary as it’s clear in the Constitution. Our people should respect the gender rule,” said Kittony.

Kittony, who is also the vice chairperson of the Senate Health Committee, concurred with Senator Gwendo, Wanga and Mutua that women’s efforts to fight for their space is still undermined.

“I am happy that through the Constitution, women got a bit of reprieve in this male-dominated world of politics and I can assure you that people are really keen on women leadership and we will not fail them,” said Mutua.

“As women, we have been able to give alternative leadership, which is filing in the gaps that the male MPs could not cater for through Constituency Development Fund. Of importance for me is the issue of taking school drop outs, both girls (who got pregnant) and boys back to school. So far, I have 70 of them back to school and they are excelling,” she added. 

MCA position

She added: “Counties are a big mandate but if women let the Government support us fully, they will see where the gap has been all along. We are working on the two thirds gender rule to ensure more women are brought around the political decision-making table but we need to see more female MCAs fighting out for positions. In Busia, we only had one woman who managed the MCA position. We need more women to zero in on the Presidency where practical, and also for the President to have more women around him in the Executive and in all senior positions.”

“Today we are hosting 500 women in Busia to celebrate our achievements for the second year running. I have a commitment that identifies nominees who have done exemplary work to uplift their lives and those of others in the community. We will recognise 21 women,” said Mutua.

Wanga said women have made good progress under the new Constitution, with more now in Parliament, Cabinet and other government institutions.

“We however continue to face the challenge of being judged on different scale compared to our male colleagues,” she noted.

Wanga, who is also a Parliamentary Service Commission commissioner, urged women to join in the fight for the implementation of the two thirds gender rule.

“We have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. The two thirds constitutional threshold is yet to be achieved in Parliament and this remains a struggle. Women chair several key committees of the House including Education, Health, Regional Integration, Implementation among others,” she said.

She added: “For the first time, women sit on the Parliamentary Service Commission. Several families related bills have passed on the effort of women.”

Gwendo admitted that all was not rosy for women in leadership.

“Our society is patriarchal and our people are socialised to put men ahead thus this has made it really difficult for women like us to fit. Nevertheless, I have done my best to participate both in the legislation process and also outside Parliament,” said Gwendo.

She added: “As a woman, my sexuality has been attacked several times but I still stand firm. I have done a lot of economic empowerment at home and especially with women.”

Gwendo said being in leadership was not easy.

“It’s tough but I toughened up and grew muscles. For us to achieve the gender rule, women have to come out and vie for these positions. That way, they are tried and tested and more people get to know... otherwise it will be difficult,” she said.