Gender agenda: What Kenya can learn from other countries

Rwanda's women legislators in parliament. The country has the highest ranking for female representation across the world.

Photo credit: Cyril Ndegeya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • On average, women constitute only 23.5 per cent of representatives in parliaments globally.
  • Kenya is one of the Eastern African and African countries that lag behind in the number of women in political leadership.

Women are closing the gender gap in areas such as health and education all the world over, but significant inequality persists in politics.

On average, women constitute only 23.5 per cent of representatives in parliaments across the world. Kenya is one of the Eastern African and African countries that lag behind in the number of women in political leadership.

Kenya is trailing countries like Rwanda, which is considered a younger democracy and less developed.

The promulgation of the 2010 Constitution brought hope as it has a provision mandating the state to take steps to ensure not more than two thirds of members of all elective and appointive positions are of the same gender.

The gender rule dilemma has, however, stalked the 10th, 11nth and 12th parliaments, with all their four attempts to operationalise the rule collapsing.

Representation of women in Parliament has been and remains minimal. Currently, only 22 per cent of members are women. Only 9.8 and 20.7 per cent of the 10th and 11th parliaments respectively composed of women, making it the lowest in East Africa.

On August 9, Kenya will conduct a general election and all eyes will be on voters to see if they will help the country finally achieve the elusive the gender principle.

So, what can Kenya learn from Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda that have beaten the odds to have a high number of women in political leadership?

Ahead of the pack

In 2020, over 60 per cent of the seats in Rwanda's parliament were held by women. The country had the strongest female participation in politics in Africa. It was also ranked first globally, with the highest proportion of women in lower houses.

The impressive performance by Rwanda was boosted by its 2003 constitution, which implemented a gender quota in elected positions. Additionally, political parties adopted their own voluntary quotas for female candidates. Previously, until 2002, women occupied 25 per cent of the seats in Rwanda's Chamber of Deputies.

South Africa now has 44.5 per cent of women in both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, a dramatic improvement on representation since the country got its independence in 1994.

Also, for the first time in South Africa’s history, women now make up half of the cabinet under President Cyril Ramaphosa. South Africa has a proportional representation electoral system in which smaller parties have a chance of winning seats, hence ensuring women representation.

The system also allows parties to assemble their candidate lists in ways that include women and reflect the country’s diverse population. Parties, therefore, focus on gender, cultural, ethnic, language and religious identities, urban and rural, and people living with disabilities irrespective of income levels.

In Uganda, 34 per cent of seats in parliament are occupied by women. As of January 2021, of 384 members of parliament, 141 were women. Following the implementation of a gender quota, its female representation has been rising.

Call to action

With less than three months remaining to the August election, the push to have the gender rule realised is gaining momentum. Speaking last week during the Women in Leadership Strategy Meeting convened by Fida-Kenya, Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu warned political parties that they will not take any list that does not meet the gender rule.

“We are not going to take any party list that does not adhere to the two-thirds gender rule,” said Ms Nderitu.

Amina Soud, voter education manager at the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC), also said they will be looking at the party lists to ensure they meet the rule.

“Only through this shall we ensure candidates from both genders are well represented in this year’s election,” said Ms Soud.

Brenda Isabel from the Electoral Law and Governance Institute for Africa (ELGIA) said her organisation is working to ensure an increase in the number of women, youths and people living with disabilities in this year’s election by eradicating barriers to their participation.

Punishing noncompliance

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati recently made it clear that the commission will not approve nomination lists from parties that fail to comply with the gender principle.

Dr Juliet Kimemia, who is vying for Kiambu gubernatorial seat, supported calls to have proportional representation in the forthcoming election.

“Adopting proportional representation will go a long way in ensuring the two-thirds gender rule is achieved, thus enhancing women’s leadership.”

She also called on the National Assembly Justice and legal Affairs Committee to amend the IEBC Act and have only the “best women losers” or those who come in second nominated as MPs, senators and MCAs.

Recently, Kandara MP Alice Wahome waded into the matter and cautioned that a governance crisis looms if the gender rule requirement is not met at the August 9 election.

The lawmaker noted that it is highly likely that a male presidential candidate elected on a joint ticket with a male deputy could be dismissed by the courts to have been elected unconstitutionally.

She warned that if the country goes into the election without clarity on this provision, there is a good chance the next presidency and parliament will also be declared unconstitutional.

“The time to fix this issue is now. Presidential and gubernatorial candidates must adhere to this gender parity principle, for example, adopting the zebra application model,” she said, calling for gender proportionality in the election.

G20 countries

Among the G20 members, Mexico takes the lead for gender equality in parliament, with 42 per cent of seats held by women.  Mexico has a history of encouraging the participation of women in politics and has impressive numbers in the federal Congress.

South Africa ranks second among the G20 members, with a huge 42 per cent of seats in its parliament going to women.

The UK is ranked fifth, with women holding 32 per cent of seats in parliament, with the US lagging behind in 13th place.

In the US, women hold just over 19 per cent of seats. Their representation in Congress has gone up over the past century, but the pace of change has been slow, especially compared to other G20 members.

Japanese politics is a man’s world, as women hold the fewest seats in Parliament, compared to the rest of the G20 members, with just nine per cent.

In Africa, Nigeria is one of the advanced countries that is doing badly in terms of women representation in political leadership. The country only has 29 women, representing six per cent of MPs, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives.


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