With political goodwill, honesty we can achieve gender equality, equity

Gender equality

An illustration of gender equity. Parliament can create laws to ensure gender balance without having to amend the Constitution, says Njeri Rugene.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

There is no denying it: Kenya has been placed in an election mood and indications are that we are likely to remain engaged in that manner for a year with the political situation heating up as the 2022 General Election draws near.

However, though related, we will be momentarily distracted by anxiety ahead of the Court of Appeal ruling on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) on Friday. The Justice Daniel Musinga-headed court will deliver its verdict on the constitutional amendment drive that has split the nation down the middle.

The nation waits with bated breath the appellate judges’ take on the disputed High Court judgment. Amid all that, the anxiety notwithstanding, it is in order to revisit some of the BBI proposals in regard to gender balance, which proponents hoped would be captured in the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 and approved by Parliament.

With Parliament’s ratification and the consequent citizens’ approval, the campaigners anticipated, BBI would spotlight the political, social and economic hurdles and an assortment of other issues that women and girls in the country are confronted with primarily because of their gender.

 They kept the faith and harboured hope that the BBI enterprise would be the vehicle to dim these ancient unfair practices which include discrimination that the female gender has faced.


Top on the list of matters presented by women, mostly as groups and individuals, at the grassroots and nationally for integration into the BBI Bill was the need to preserve and keep intact the gender achievements as contained in the Constitution.

They were attained after years of fighting for reforms, agitation, lobbying and tough negotiations during that lengthy and windy journey by rights campaigners. Fortunately, this struggle is well documented and some players continue to do it as a vital aspect in our history.

In addition to weighty societal issues largely proposed as part of the women's agenda, such as the contents of Article 43 on the rights to health, housing, water, food and social security, cases of femicide were on the surge (things have not quite changed for the better).

And so, it was expected that sexual and gender based-violence, particularly against young women and minors, as well as domestic violence, would rightly be on the priority list in the hope that they would be addressed.

Given that the general election is only a year away, it is critical and appropriate that issues that hinder women’s participation in the electoral process are dealt with firmly and with finality. Key among these is electoral violence against female candidates, especially during campaigns and on voting day.

Women candidates

Regrettably, it is not just women candidates, aspirants and campaigners who are subjected to this form of gender violence but also female voters. This electoral hooliganism clearly is a major issue that discourages women — mostly potential and able leaders willing to take the reins of leadership — from participating and running for political office.

This form of discrimination and abuse of the political arena that smacks of gender imbalance in favour of men led women to seek a deterrent and protection against electoral violence that is anchored in law. And under BBI, electoral violence against women has been enhanced to aggravated assault with harsher penalties against its perpetrators.

Addressed, too, is the thorny matter of inclusivity, providing a mechanism of, for instance, equal representation of both genders in the Senate while in the county assemblies nomination slots would be based on votes received with the top-up seats having a 10-year sunset clause. Political parties would be obliged to provide two-thirds gender-compliant candidate lists for elective MCA seats.

The BBI Bill also proposes that the gubernatorial candidate and running mate be of opposite gender with the deputy governor legally having a portfolio. That was in an attempt to tackle the hurdles to inclusion and participation of women, especially in politics.

Safeguarding inclusivity need not be pegged on the Friday ruling. BBI or none, Parliament can do it. Political goodwill is the key word, and that is the elephant in the room.