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Gender push at expense of men may face legal issues

By Jacob Ng'etich | November 29th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Women legislators protest the assault of their colleague on July 13, 2019, at Parliament. [File, Standard]

The number of women on the next ballot could reach record numbers as the country pushes forward with proposals to ensure gender parity in the 2022 General Election.

The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 calls for the creation of special top-up seats to ensure the two-thirds gender principle is actualised.

How these positions are filled will be determined after the declaration of winners in each constituency, and will comprise candidates who lost the election.

The Bill says preference will be given to women who received the greatest number of votes, or the best losers. This affirmative action will last for 15 years.

Proponents of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) also want the Senate membership increased to 94, with each county represented by one man and one woman.

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The position of woman representative has, however, been dropped in the BBI report.

The Bill also seeks to increase the number of constituencies from 290 to 360 with six more representatives of the youth and the disabled finding their way to the august House.

Parliament will also host the leader of official opposition, the Attorney General and Cabinet ministers who are not elected MPs as ex-officio members.

Political commentator and lawyer John Waiganjo has predicted a legal landmine, saying it is not clear how the two-thirds gender objective will be met in instances where a male candidate emerges the best loser in a parliamentary race.

"What will happen if the number two candidate with the highest number of votes is a man, or the third is a woman? Will the man be bypassed and the woman nominated to Parliament?” Waiganjo posed.

He said the nature of elections means it would be difficult to overlook a candidate with more votes for a loser based solely on gender, and that legislation will be needed to clear up the matter.

The proposed amendment also provides that candidates be nominated from a party list for seats in the National Assembly and county assemblies shall be picked on the basis of total votes received by their political party. Currently, the allocations are based on seats won by a political party.

Although the Senate race will attract more women who will compete against each other, the National Assembly ballot is expected to be much longer as they battle to be the best losers.

More women are also expected to vie for MCA slots to benefit from the gender parity requirement, whose principal is that not more than two-thirds of candidates can be of the same sex.

The Bill warns of sanctions against political parties if they do not ensure gender parity in the primaries. This is amid fears that more men could be locked out or lose in the nominations as parties give priority to women candidates.

BBI promoters, however, say this is to facilitate the actualisation of the gender rule in the electoral process right from the nomination stage.

Waiganjo said constituencies with more voters will benefit from the top-up seats for equal representation at the expense of sparsely populated regions.

It is not clear whether the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission will delineate more constituencies seeing that it has been 10 years since the exercise was conducted. The poll body is mandated to review electoral boundaries after eight to 12 years.

The Bill, however, suggests the creation of 70 additional constituencies and identifies the areas to benefit based on population.

"This is to facilitate attainment of fair representation in the National Assembly and to actualise the aspiration of the equality of the vote principle, especially in the currently under-represented electoral areas,” reads the Bill.


Gender Constitution Amendment Bill Two-Thirds Gender Rule
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