By Salome Nthenya Nzuki
After the Gender Bill failed to pass in May, it is crystal clear that women won’t be served leadership positions on a silver platter. The two-thirds gender rule is a constitutional provision (Article 27 (6), but only 178 legislators voted in favour of the bill; moreover, the number of legislators in Parliament that day did not constitute the required minimum to pass an amendment.
There is a substantive scarcity of elected women leaders both in the National Assembly and the Senate. Out of the available 290 constituency seats, only 16 women got directly elected MPs. There are 47 county women representatives and 5 nominated women.
The elected women comprise of only 5.5% of the 290 constituency seats. All women legislators in the National Assembly make up a total of 19.5%, the highest percentage realised since independence. This representation falls short of the two-thirds gender ratio by 13.8%. The Senate does not have a single elected woman! The 18 nominated women senators make up 26.9% of the Senate, still short of the two-thirds gender ratio.
The State is responsible for effecting the realisation and enjoyment of rights by every individual as enshrined in the Constitution. The State is therefore mandated to take legislative and other measures, including affirmative action programmes and policies designed to redress any disadvantage suffered by individuals or groups because of past discrimination [Article 27(6)]. For this reason, it has flopped by failing to ensure the successful implementation of the two-thirds gender rule.
Women seeking elective posts face an array of barriers when approaching citizens for votes. Cultural bias is the biggest hindrance. Traditionally, women are expected to only take up the domestic sphere; it seems that a majority of the electorate are not ready to embrace women leaders. How many times do we bother with how a woman is dressed or how her hair is styled instead of the point she’s trying to raise, for example?
Society puts the personal life of women leaders under too much scrutiny instead of looking out for leadership qualities in them. It is common for women to be denied leadership positions for the trivial reason that they’re not married, or are divorced. Other factors such as poor education, limited finances and political violence lock them out of positions.
Consequently, women have to work twice as hard as men to secure elective seats. The playing field is not fair for women. For this reason, we need affirmative action to make the field level and compensate women for the discrimination they face. However, affirmative action seems distasteful to Kenyans. It has been dismissed as a scheme to award women “free seats”. Seeing how things are, it is unlikely that affirmative action will contribute to an increased number of women legislators. The flopping of the Gender Bill (twice) in itself portrayed how deeply entrenched chauvinism and patriarchy are in our society – even in the August House!
Should women seeking leadership positions give up? No. Instead, they should come out in large numbers to contest for elective seats in the coming general election. Preparation is key and having a clear strategy for campaign is necessary. Hope is not a method for winning elections. Women should understand that they would not be elected just because they are women. They need to appeal to the voters’ hearts and convince them they’re the best-suited candidates for the job. It is less than 9 months to the elections and serious aspirants should have hit the ground, creating relationships with the electorate. The trick is to make contact with voters as early as possible. Waiting to surprise them like an earthquake won’t work!
Since money is a major setback for women aspirants, it is important for women to mobilise resources. One way of doing this is through fundraising. Women should look up to their friends, family and supporters to help them raise campaign funds. Additionally, resources can be in terms of volunteers and non-monetary items. Tap into the energy of people willing to volunteer to be in your campaign team.
Voter mobilisation is an important step. Women aspirants need to analyse their voter support, voter target and the past voter trends. They should know exactly how many votes they need to clinch a seat. They should also call out on their supporters to turn out in large numbers and nominate them; apathy needs to be discarded. Nomination is key to ensure an aspirant’s name appears on the ballot paper. Having a clear plan of the specific activities one’s team will undertake during the official 21 days of campaign, the night before election and on the Election Day is vital. These are critical days and if proper convincing is done, many voters can shift to your side.
It’s time the women of this country took the steering wheel in leadership and realised their political potential and rights. Women aspirants need to be confident and aggressive. The bare 1/3 representation of women required is little; a fifty-fifty representation is ideal. This can only be realised if women come out in large numbers to battle it out for elective seats. I’m ready to vote for a deserving woman politician. Are you?
“For me, a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote but to be elected” – Michelle Bachelet, former President and Defence Minister of Chile
Writer is a Gender and Development Studies specialists, and a gender activist