Why education is vital in women’s political participation, leadership

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Governors Ann Waiguru (left), Charity Ngilu and the late Joyce Laboso at State House, Nairobi, June 2018. [PSCU]

Governments as well as stakeholders over time have recognised education as the single most potent instrument for the emancipation of the people and also vital element in combating poverty, empowering the citizenry and promoting human rights.

Researchers observed that education is a sure pathway to the liberation of the mind and improvement of socio-economic status of people. It enhances healthy living, empowers the masses and leads to higher productivity of nations. Equally, scholars have long speculated about education’s political impacts, variously arguing that it instils acceptance of existing authority and empowers the disadvantaged to challenge authority.

A study undertaken in Kenya to assess the political and social impacts of a randomised girls’ merit scholarship incentive programme found that the experience of secondary education made young women more politically informed and less differential to political authority. This suggests that educated women could be a powerful and disruptive force, driven to challenge the status quo.

Since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, social, economic and political advancements have been undertaken towards promotion of gender equality. The results in the global gender gap index report confirm the progress made this far with high performance in education attainment and health.

While numerous political advancements have occurred in Kenya since the promulgation, the most important influence has to be on women’s involvement and representation in political roles. Despite the Kenyan Constitution, in article 27(8), mandating that “not more than two thirds of members of the elected House can be of the same gender”, women still have a small presence in political participation, with their effort to ensure the two-thirds gender rule receiving an underwhelming support. At every level, from the home to the highest levels of government, women are excluded from decision-making. 

Despite improvement in female literacy over the years, women's voter participation is still low in comparison to men's participation, pointing to other barriers. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), in its data report on 2017 elections, reported that 47 per cent of the registered voters were female while 53 per cent were male. Of the 14,501 candidates who participated in the 2017 elections, 1,259 (8.7 per cent) were women. As at 2017, political representation of women in Kenya stood at 21.43 per cent (up from 16 per cent in 2013), the lowest in the region, compared to Rwanda (64 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), Tanzania (36 per cent) and Uganda (35 per cent). In all these countries, ‘gender quotas’ have proven to be a critical and effective way of enhancing women’s participation and representation in the political sphere.

While the current number of women in Kenya’s Parliament (86 out of 416) elected and nominated in both the National Assembly and Senate is the highest in Kenya’s history, the country still lags behind the global average of 22 per cent, and the desired 33 per cent gender quota to meet the critical threshold needed to make significant change.

Globally, out of the 194 countries, 22 are headed by women. Conversely, only 25 per cent of government ministers are women, with only 14 countries having achieved 50 per cent or more women in Cabinets. In relation to national parliamentarians, only four countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 61 per cent, Cuba with 53 per cent, Bolivia with 53 per cent, and the United Arab Emirates with 50 per cent.

Assessing the possible reasons for the lag, factors such as Kenya’s patriarchal culture, political party politics, gender stereotypes, financial strains and the lack of political education among women in the country. Bridging the gender gap in education is an important policy in promoting gender equality in political participation. Majority of women politicians in Kenya are highly educated, confirming that education does play an important role among women when it comes to political representation. However, this should be supported by other initiatives that overall remove the existing barriers.

Women and girls make over half of the Kenyan population. According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, women comprise for 50.5 per cent (24 million) of Kenya's total population. A country where half of the population are women and policies are made for all gender, females deserve to get equal representation in leadership positions and in policy making process because a deficiency can reduce the relevance and effectiveness of policies.

Political parties must be compelled to implement the gender equity principles enshrined in the national Constitution and electoral laws, and their constitutions to bring about change in the identification, selection and nomination of women during the electoral process, take decisive action to eliminate violence during party primaries and national elections and debunk the stereotyped role of women. There is also a need for full implementation of the two-thirds gender rule across the public sector, given that it is a constitutional mandate. The private sector could also be incentivised to promote gender parity in employment.

When women are better represented in politics, their voices are heard, and issues that impact them are more likely to be centred in public discourse. 

Mr Ochieng and Ms Jattani are communications officer and researcher, respectively, at Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA-Kenya).