If there is anything or lesson emerging from the current heated debate on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), it is the critical need for women to join politics in their numbers – the outcome of the referendum on the BBI notwithstanding.
The response from some quarters of the male leadership on certain affirmative action recommendations in the BBI report – whose aim is an attempt to address the gender inequality particularly in the political space, is quite telling.
It reveals how far our society, including the political leadership that should know better and lead by example, is willing to go to entrench patriarchy further instead of leading to dismantle it, by resisting affirmative action that would see more women in the political field.
The resistance is not only bad for our governance, political development and the Constitution, it is also a bad example to the country’s young women and men gearing to take up leadership positions. It sends a wrong message that the nation is still stuck deep in stereotypes and the ‘dark days’ of misplaced notions that political leadership space is a reserve for men.
The glaring example of this resistance is the proposal that the governor and the deputy be of the opposite gender. And unlike the current situation, there is a further proposal that the deputy governor will be assigned a portfolio.
This means the office will be stronger than it is currently, with the deputy governor having specific responsibilities and it will now be upon the individual to prove herself or himself in this enhanced position. And in an apparent bid to protect this clause (from critics and rejection), the drafters have been ‘careful’ and thus used the compromise language of “shall consider”.
However, this wording is a cause for worry because there are chances of the provision being ignored by male governors to continue picking fellow men in the position. There is clear opposition by many governors, male, who are opposed to the recommendation.
While these governors are within their constitutional rights and reasons to oppose the suggestions, it comes out as disturbing that such a critical leadership would oppose what is clearly progressive, should the report be adopted.
But the one thing that the dissenting governors appear to forget is that there will also be women governors elected, and they will also be bound by that law to pick their deputies from the male gender.
The danger in rejecting such harmless and progressive proposals is that those doing so within the Council of Governors will be negatively influencing our nation as we seek to move towards progress, promotion of gender equality and inclusion including in our politics.
Governors need to also lead in showing the political goodwill and leadership in the mainstreaming of gender. Gender balance, equity and equality, especially at the political level, is the right thing to do for any leader genuinely interested in moving the country forward.
In addition, to show political goodwill, the male leadership – especially the political one – should also rally behind other attempts at ensuring that the country achieves the promises for women contained in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 that are yet to be implemented. Prominent among this is the two-thirds gender rule, which the BBI report notes that it is yet to be fully implemented.
Clearly, women and the country’s other progressive forces expect that this should be the time to resolve the gender issues that have been pending for years, with the two-thirds gender rule leading the pack. It is important that it is realised in the two Houses of Parliament – the Senate and the National Assembly – and of course, at the County Assembly.
Meanwhile, women should embrace this time and participate in huge numbers in the next election. Going by the progress in numbers of elected women to the National Assembly and even the Senate in 2013 (though minimal) and 2017, indications are that the numbers will be higher come 2022.
This, of course, calls for more hard work by the civil society and specifically women organisations on training and empowerment of women interested in joining politics, in preparation for leadership.
Women leaders in the political space should do more in mentorship of their counterparts including young women who are ready to throw their weight in the male dominated field of politics, come 2022 and beyond.