Have women really won big in BBI? Well…

Members of the public following proceedings at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on October 26, 2020 during the launch of BBI report.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo| Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • There exists a history of women being assigned to rather ineffectual positions once they get into Parliament.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report has dominated news bulletins and newspaper headlines. It proposes more representation of women through appointment of deputy governors of the opposite gender to the governor, election of a female and male senator for each county and addition of 70 parliamentary seats, half of which would be filled by women.

These proposals have been lauded by women as they stand to push their numbers in Parliament, thus leading to achievement of the two-thirds gender rule.

However, we ought to question whether the creation of these roughly 120 positions really guarantee better representation of women. If we approach it from the surface value, we miss the politics around the BBI, and could be blinded to the reality of the intentions of the politicians who have thrown their weight behind the initiative. These proposals are possibly a means to garner support from women ahead of the 2022 General Election.

Women have been fighting for more representation in politics and the government to address systemic and cultural issues, such as unequal distribution of resources, gender violence and stereotypes that limit access to opportunities.

 One of the key issues that arises concerning the low representation of women is the nature of our culture that views women as subordinate to men. There exists a history of women being assigned to rather ineffectual positions once they get into Parliament. They are usually outnumbered, and as a result, ignored. This makes it incredibly difficult for them to deliver.

How, then, might we move forward? Should we accept the situation as it is and have women in politics continue to lobby for the independence of their leadership? Is it better, instead, to find alternative ways to bring the interests of women forward?

It is important to consider that even though these proposals encourage gender equality, women still have to closely follow up and push for their implementation, because time and again, it has been proven that these policies are often just a show of progressiveness. If indeed, the goal is to increase the political representation of women, then we need to consider the current system.

The 2010 Constitution put in place the position of a County Woman Representative. However, even with these 47 representatives, Parliament still hasn’t passed the two-thirds gender rule and women continue to lobby for the same issues they have been since the promulgation of the Constitution.

The proposals, therefore, don’t really do much to help women. We need to build massive support for women’s policies. We need to look at non-governmental structures and organisations as an alternative to the showy proposals we keep putting forward. Our focus now should be on shifting public agenda to critical issues such as poverty and injustices.

Women have proven that they are capable of organising themselves instead of simply waiting for creation of space and ‘inclusivity’ for them. A unified movement of women would have a great impact on gender equality.

Martha Wangechi Njuguna, Columbia University

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