In democratic societies, the political leadership should mirror the population from which it is drawn.
According to the 2009 national population census, women constitute 51.4 per cent of the population and 47 per cent of registered voters. This numerical strength is, however, not reflected in the representation of women in political leadership.
The Constitution contains several gains for women with respect to access to political rights and participation in political leadership. The preamble envisages a government based on “the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law”.
Article 81 (b) of the Constitution provides that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.
This means women, who had been historically underrepresented, have to constitute at least one-third of all elective and appointive positions in public agencies. Further, article 100 provides that Parliament shall enact legislation to promote the representation in Parliament of women, persons with disabilities, youth, ethnic and other minorities and marginalised communities.
Despite this legislative progress, the gender balance in political leadership was not achieved in the 2013 general election. According to the Gender Audit of Kenya 2013 Elections Process conducted by Fida Kenya, despite a very progressive Constitution, most institutions took on a very passive and minimalistic approach in putting in place measures that would have enhanced the space for women as they pursued their civic and political rights.
Women still only constitute 19.8 per cent of National Assembly members, 26.5 per cent of the Senate and 34 per cent of MCAs, with only 82 women having been elected out of 1,450 wards while 680 were nominated. Even though six women vied for the position of governor, none was elected and only 19.2 per cent of the deputy governors are women.
At the voter level, several women have had difficulties obtaining identity cards and without it, they are unable to register as voters.
For the registered voters, their ability to vote is limited by the responsibilities bestowed on the rural woman by society, inaccessibility of voting centres and long distances to cover to cast a vote, lack of confidence in the political leadership and the feeling that women issues are not prioritised irrespective of the leaders they vote for. Gender disparity in voting remains a challenge as 16 per cent of women in Kenya still lack basic literacy skills, compared with nine per cent of men.
Parties have not effectively provided women opportunities to participate actively in the mainstream party leadership, key decision making and political party activities.
During the campaign processes, the experience of the 2013 general election indicated that parties failed to support women either through financial support for branding or waiver of the nomination fees for aspirants who cannot afford and security during campaigns. This left female aspirants more vulnerable.
There is need to monitor the enforcement of electoral laws before and during the 2017 general election, with a focus on ensuring compliance by political parties, institutionalisation of functional electoral dispute resolution mechanisms, adherence to the two thirds gender principle and enforcement of sanctions against political violence and abuse.
Political parties should fully utilise their platforms and influence to enhance women’s participation in politics.
The Government should immediately enact a legal framework for the realisation of the two thirds gender principle and provide campaign financing for women candidates.
The electoral commission should develop a policy to ensure the participation in elections of women, youth, and persons with disability and exercise its authority to regulate and oversee all political party nominations. IEBC must impose sanctions as defined in the law on offending individuals and parties in order to curb the culture of impunity.
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The writer is Executive Director, Fida Kenya