Kenya could finally have a mechanism to implement the two thirds gender rule by June this year.
Debate on the controversial issue came up in the National Assembly again last week, under the Constitution of Kenya (amendment) Bill moved by Majority Leader Aden Duale.
Duale’s proposal now seeks to ‘top up’ the number of women in the National Assembly should the general election fail to meet the constitutional threshold. The proposed law introduces clauses for proportionate allocation of special seats to the number of seats won by a political party after elections.
It also seeks to amend various electoral laws, including the Political Parties Act, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Act, and the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) Act, to effect Article 100 of the Constitution that seeks to promote representation of marginalised groups.
Besides proposing a 20-year framework within which the gender rule should be implemented, it also provides that persons nominated serve for a maximum two terms.
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Though cautiously optimistic, women MPs remain hopeful that they will marshal the requisite numbers in Parliament for passage of a proposal to implement the rule and avoid plunging the country into a constitutional crisis after next year’s polls.
The proposed legislation was seconded by chair of the parliamentary Justice and Legal Affairs committee Samuel Chepkonga, who appears to have dropped a controversial proposal he had earlier made to amend Article 81 of the Constitution to have the gender principle achieved progressively.
Majority of MPs in the House spoke in favour of the Bill, with the exception of Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo, who ran into trouble by referring to women MPs who rarely contribute to debate and those nominated to county assemblies as 'idlers' and 'busybodies' who squander public funds.
Two proposals to arrive at a mechanism to implement the gender principle are now on the cards, the other one being the Green Amendment Campaign championed by a section of the civil society.
The Green Amendment Campaign seeks to do away with the post-election ‘gender top up’, as happened in the county assemblies after the 2013 elections. It instead proposes an amendment to Article 177 to provide for twinning of adjacent constituencies to provide 725 seats for women to be elected.
It proposes an amendment to the Constitution as provided in Article 257, and is already collecting the requisite one million signatures. The proposal favours the provision of special elective seats for women at both the national and county level.
The campaign further proposes to amend Article 97 to enable twinning of adjacent constituencies to provide one seat for women to be elected, and 22 nomination seats for persons with disabilities in the National Assembly. At the Senate, it suggests election of one man and one woman per county, with nominations to remain for the disabled and youth.
Amending Article 89 would ensure IEBC, in not less than one year to the next general election, designates adjacent constituencies and wards to enable election of women to the National Assembly, county assemblies and Senate.
During the two hour debate in Parliament last week, Duale dismissed Midiwo’s argument on cost, saying it was a priceless price to pay for good leadership.
“Democracy and governance is very expensive everywhere in the world. There is no price tag on leadership, governance and the route to achieving democratic ideals. This bill protects the gains of women in the Constitution and its provisions have been tested in the county assemblies,” he said.
Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo said the ‘top up’ proposed was a temporary measure. “There are people who have raised concerns with the numbers but these numbers will also be dependent on how women perform in the elections,” she said.
While women leaders say they are committed to seeing the bill push through, there are those that feel they should do more to rally the support of their male colleagues.
“Implementation of the two thirds gender rule isn’t a women’s issue but a constitutional requirement. Women leaders in the House should do more to ensure the requisite two thirds are available to enable the bill pass its Second Reading,” says National Women Steering Committee Convener Daisy Amdany.
Amdany says the Green Amendment campaign is on track and has so far collected about 700,000 signatures. To pass through the proposal the initiative requires one million signatures and the support of at least 24 counties. It further requires a simple majority to sail through at the National Assembly and Senate. Failure by the Houses to pass it would see the matter go to a referendum.