What you need to know:
- That there are some voices calling for a plebiscite on Article 81 (b) of the Constitution is an alarming lack of appreciation of the critical role that gender equality plays.
- When women’s voice and agency is lower than that of men, whether at home or workplace or in national institutions, it affects their children and society in the long run.
- On many fronts, Kenya has been the pace setter for the region and its economy remains the strongest.
- It is regrettable that it is the only country in East Africa that is yet to achieve the one-third gender equity minimum in its political leadership.
At the Women Deliver 2019 Conference held in Canada in June last year and at the Global Leaders Meeting on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in New York in September 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared his unwavering support for the two-thirds gender law in Kenya.
“I will reach out to my fellow leaders because time has come for us to pull together to further this agenda,” said the President in Canada.
That there are some voices calling for a plebiscite on Article 81 (b) of the Constitution — which requires that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective bodies shall be of the same gender” — is an alarming lack of appreciation of the critical role that gender equality plays in the country’s sustainable development journey.
Ten years after that constitutional imperative, and despite the best efforts of gender equality proponents from the political sphere and civil society, implementation of the two-thirds gender principle in Parliament remains elusive.
Statement of intent
There are many reasons why the country must begin to see that the rule is not just a question of increasing political seats for women but a statement of intent to embrace gender equality as a prerequisite for sustainable development, including the Kenya Vision 2030 economic development blueprint
When women’s voice and agency is lower than that of men, whether at home or workplace or in national institutions, it affects their children and society in the long run.
For example, children of young and poorly educated mothers often face higher risks of dying by age five, being malnourished and doing poorly in school. This lack of opportunities for girls and women entails huge economic costs not only for them, but also for their households and countries.
Consider this. Gender inequality costs sub-Saharan Africa on average $95 billion (Sh9.5 trillion) a year, peaking at $105 billion in 2014 — or six per cent of the region’s GDP — jeopardising the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth, according to the “Africa Human Development Report 2016”.
On many fronts, Kenya has been the pace setter for the region and its economy remains the strongest. It is regrettable that it is the only country in East Africa that is yet to achieve the one-third gender equity minimum in its political leadership.
While the threshold has been achieved at the counties, women constitute a paltry 23 per cent of MPs, falling shy of the constitutional requirement. This indicates that, with political resolve, it is achievable nationally.
It has been argued that such a mechanism would incur significant cost to the taxpayer. This has been debunked by a recent study commissioned by leading women’s rights organisations which found that it would cost the Kenyan taxpayer an additional Sh58 annually to give effect to the rule.
The UN in Kenya is fully behind the President’s commitment to ensure that Kenyan women enjoy full political rights, a fundamental right in the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Kenya is a signatory.
Yawning gender power gap
“Centuries of discrimination, deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny have created a yawning gender power gap in our economies, our political systems and our corporations. This simply has to change”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the 64th session on the Status of Women in March.
Pushing to give women full and equal participation in decision-making should not be reduced to tokenism; neither should it be up for protracted debate. Only by unleashing the full potential of all people to participate fully in the economy can we strengthen growth, eliminate poverty and create a sustainable development pathway.
Mr Siddharth is the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Ms Mutavati is the UN Women country director in Kenya.