After decades of push and pull between Kenyan women and men for equal access to leadership, it had been hoped that the handshake deal would settle the gender parity question once and for all.
But the lofty promise has been replaced by confusion, despondency and frustration as women, the least favoured gender down Kenya’s history, try to make sense of Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) proposals.
There is no unanimity that, with BBI, women will finally break the chains of under-representation in sharing of the national cake. To the contrary, doubts have been cast that the document claws back on the gains made, and has generated more heat than light.
It began with the skewed numbers in the 14 BBI task force appointed by President Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga. It had only four women – Maison Leshomo, Agnes Kavindu, Rose Museo and Florence Omosa – who were supposed to push for the agenda affecting their own but ended up holding the short end of the stick.
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Former National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) chairperson Winfred Lichuma said BBI’s first cardinal sin was to have both the chair and vice-chair as men, as the joint secretaries.
“I was a bit disappointed by the BBI process and the taskforce because they mentioned the gender issue in passing. My expectation was that they would have looked at why it has not been resolved and give the country the way forward,” she added.
She said women leaders came under an umbrella body and gave their views to the team “but we are surprised the issue did not make it to the main agenda.”
She claimed the document has eroded some of the gains of the 2010 Constitution, citing removal of the 47 woman representative positions.
But if Lichuma was diplomatic, Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua was ballistic. According to Karua, all the top political posts under the BBI framework appear off the radar for women. She says women appear to be more on the menu rather than in the agenda.
“To the women of Kenya, beware that BBI seeks to institutionalise the position of deputy governor as the highest we can go. There is no provision that the running mate to a president be of the opposite gender, or that the president and Prime Minister be of the opposite gender,” Martha Karua said yesterday.
The report released to President Kenyatta and Raila at the newly launched Kisii State Lodge has proposed radical changes in the structure of government, including the executive.
They include the creation of a prime minister position and two deputies, a president and his deputy president, and an increase in the number of senators from 69 to 94, representing two from each county.
Others would be the creation of office of Leader of Opposition including deputies, and an additional 70 elected members to raise the National Assembly membership to 360.
Although women have been pushing for more representation in Parliament, they do not know if the additional 70 seats will benefit them. There is also no clear provision that some of the top executive positions will go to women. Outmaneuvered, women have been forced to plead with the men to allow them have the seats.
At the Bomas launch, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu (pictured) pleaded that the top position be left for women.
“There should be more women in the five top positions in the executive,” she said.
To add salt to injury, those being mentioned as likely beneficiaries of top positions in the new executive structure are all men. Not a single woman’s name appears in the ongoing debate on likely beneficiaries, once again relegating women to political periphery.
At the moment, all top positions in the three arms of government are led by men – President Kenyatta (executive), speakers Justin Muturi and Ken Lusaka (Parliament) and David Maraga (Judiciary).
Also, the BBI campaign team, formed in the aftermath of the BBI report launch, has added salt to injury.
There are only four women out of 30-strong team tasked with selling the document across the country. The BBI team leaders are former vice-presidents Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi, governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Hassan Joho (Mombasa), Amason Kingi (Kilifi), James Ongwae (Kisii), Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo Marakwet) and Kiraitu Murungi (Meru).
Others are MPs Amos Kimunya (National Assembly Majority Leader), John Mbadi (National Assembly Minorty leader), Irungu Kang’ata (Senate Majority Whip), Naomi Shaban (Taveta), Mishi Mboko (Likoni), Adan Keynan (Eldas), Joshua Kuttuny (Cherangany), William Kamket (Tiaty), Simba Arati (Dagoretti North), Tom Kajwang (Ruaraka) and Maina Kamanda (Nominated).
Also in the team are senators Yusuf Haji (Garissa), Gideon Moi (Baringo), Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos. Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto are also in the team.
“We are not waiting for positions to be doled out to us. We are claiming them. For instance, since the release of the report, I have been traversing my region in BBI Mashinani campaigns. I am not waiting to be anointed by anyone. The mission is quite clear to me,” Laikipa Woman Representative Cate Waruguru says.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior said the proposal to increase members in the National Assembly was likely to be contentious given that it was not clear how the gender parity will be achieved. “There is no clarity on how women, youth and people with disability will get the seats given that they are up for grabs by any candidate. We might end up with even more number of men than we have now,” said Mutula Junior.
“Most of the gains by women are because of the push by women,” said Priscilla Nyokabi, a commissioner of National Gender and Equality Commission.
Vocal Jubilee Vice-chairperson David Murathe dismissed the claims that women have been sidelined in the process, citing the membership of the BBI taskforce.
He said women have actively participated in the drafting of the proposals that have yielded more benefits to women, including having 47 women in the Senate.
“The ones making noise are those activists who think they should be consulted on everything when they are not even involved in active elective politics. They are very loud and have self-entitlement but failed to give their views,” said Murathe.
Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga noted that women have been involved actively in this process.
“If you look at the proposals, there are several gains for women through deliberate efforts to fix the gender parity in both the National Assembly and the senate,” said Wanga.
At the county leadership, she said, those running for governorship will now have to pick a running mate of opposite gender. This will put women to be part and parcel of governance at the county level.
Nominated Senator Rose Nyamunga said their focus is now on how the top five positions will be shared out between men and woman in political leadership.
“We as women have participated actively in the initial stages of this process and will continue to participate in coming stages,” said Nyamunga.
“What we are now watching keenly is how the five top positions will take care of the two thirds gender rule. We want at least two women to be there at the top,’’ she added.
[Jacob Ng’etich, Wilfred Ayaga and Moses Nyamori]