By Nyambura Gathumbi
Published August 24, 2017
Kenya now has three women Governors, three women Senators and a record 23 women Members of Parliament elected by the people to represent and lead them for the next five years after the August 8, 2017 general elections. These positions are mainly at the top of national and local government. At the moment of writing, Kenya’s National Gender and Equality Commission has indicated that 96 female Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) have been elected across the country and is projecting this number to go up to 100.
By and large, this is a noticeable improvement over the 2013 elections, when there were 16 women MPs elected and no women elected for senate or gubernatorial positions. Notwithstanding the fact that this is still far from attaining the two-thirds gender principle, it is no mean feat considering the shenanigans witnessed around this issue in the last parliament!
Women who took the bold step to compete with men for their seats braved an extremely hostile political environment and entrenched patriarchal attitudes to win their respective seats. Most notable are the North Eastern and Samburu regions that, despite their conservative worldview, have produced for the first time a female senator in Isiolo County, and two MPs in Ijara and Samburu West Constituencies.
Looking at the statistics on the numbers of women who vied for office in 2013 and 2017, the numbers of women running for all the positions have increased significantly from what we saw in 2013. But perhaps what is most worth highlighting is the number of women who have been elected in communities that are perceived to be very hostile to women: Isiolo County, and similarly, Samburu West and Ijara constituencies, made history this year by electing women members of parliament for the first time ever.
There are several other counties known to subjugate women which have now also elected women to various offices. A good example is Nandi County, where a woman deputy governor was elected and six female MCAs. This is far better than results in some counties perceived to be progressive, like Kiambu County in central Kenya, where only one woman was elected to the County Assembly.
A new trend has also been observed of women voters increasingly showing confidence in women aspirants and being willing to support them, not just during the campaigns, but also by voting for them. This stems from the continued advocacy and sensitization of communities on the importance of placing women in leadership. The efforts of women’s rights advocates in Kenya is slowly bearing fruit.
Having said that, I think our attention should now turn to what the discussion about the two thirds gender rule should focus on in the 12th parliament. One of the clear lessons we need to keep alive is how little thought was given to how the two thirds gender principle would be implemented when the 2010 Constitution was being drafted. This, together with the experiences of women legislators in the 11th parliament, and that of women’s rights advocates who have been working on this issue, strongly indicates that women should begin to strategise now if this discussion is to gain any traction in the incoming parliament.
Already, the Gender and Equality Commission has warned of an imminent constitutional crisis as a result of the failure of the House and all the County Assemblies to meet the constitutional threshold on gender representation. There is therefore need for a clear strategy. With a good strategy, we need not spend the next five years discussing how to get women into representative positions. As it is, we have much ground to cover within limited time. Our focus should soon shift towards analysing the quality of leadership that women, especially those at the helm of their counties, will be providing. We need to document it so that we can demonstrate from practical cases that women are capable and actually do offer quality leadership.
Unlike in the last term, when we did not have female governors, now we will have three who will hopefully demonstrate the leadership qualities women can bring to the table, and which we have been missing. This is very important. But equally importantly, we need to begin to prepare the ground for improved quality of women leaders so that in the next elections even more of them will occupy the political arena.
An edited east-africa.hivos.org article