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Two thirds gender rule achievable

By Ken Opalo | September 26th 2020

Chief Justice David Maraga deserves credit for putting our patriarchal political class on the spot over the two-thirds gender rule. Presently, only 21.8 percent of members of the National Assembly are women. The emerging constitutional crisis will require extra-ordinary leadership. For the sake of constitutional order, the political class must step up and pass legislation to increase the number of women in Parliament.

The case for increasing the share of women in Parliament is simple and clear. First and foremost, it is a matter of gender equality for its own sake. It does not matter that women legislators may be just as corrupt or incompetent as their male counterparts. What matters is that since women make up more than half of our population, our institutions should reflect that fact.

Second, research shows that descriptive representation matters. Female legislators bring to the table expertise and perspectives that male legislators often lack. For example, it is female parliamentarians who have been at the forefront of pushing legislation and policies to tackle problems of gender-based violence and lack of access to maternal healthcare. While these issues should occupy the minds of all legislators, our male lawmakers have invariably fallen short. Therefore, from a public policy standpoint, increasing the number of female legislators would reduce the odds of Parliament ignoring pressing concerns that disproportionately affect half of our population.

We all know why female politicians fare poorly in politics. Misogyny, electoral violence, weakly institutionalised parties, and the cost of campaigns are all factors that make it difficult for female politicians to excel. Prejudicial attitudes mean that women often have to be orders of magnitude better than their male competitors to even have a fighting chance. The prevalence of violence and intimidation in our elections mean that only certain types of people, many of whom are men, self-select into politics. And because of the weakness of our parties, women often lack the opportunity of rising through the party ranks or relying on party brands to win votes.

Our politics (especially during primaries) still remains highly candidate-centric, a fact that favours deep-pocketed men good at buying votes and intimidating opponents. The cost of campaigns gives men, who dominate campaign finance networks, significant advantages over women. It bears stating that the dearth of elected female politicians is not for want of talent, passion, or policy expertise. It is a function of unfair barriers that have been put up on account of retrogressive attitudes and the nature of our political system. It is for this reason that the framers of the constitution saw fit to mandate a minimum level of sex-based descriptive representation.

To meet the two-thirds rule, we must be bold. At the county level, we should abolish all nominated seats and adopt a proportional representation system with closed party lists. All lists must have equal representation of men and women in alternating order. Voters would then choose party lists, and seats in county assemblies would be assigned proportionately to votes garnered. In the National Assembly and Senate, we should also abolish nominated seats - except for two nominated legislators to represent people with disabilities.

Each county should then elect a man and a woman to the Senate. For the first three elections to the National Assembly, one-third of randomly selected (via lottery) constituencies (per county) will be designated as women only contests. After that, the quotas can be removed. Notice that implementing this recommendation would reduce the number of legislators in the Senate and National Assembly by 28.

-The writer is a professor at Georgetown University

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