Let’s shame next government if it fails to honour gender pledges

Presidential candidates Raila Odinga and William Ruto

Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga (left) and his Kenya Kwanza counterpart William Ruto.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya Kwanza, whose presidential candidate is DP William Ruto of UDA, has published a comprehensive charter that details the pledges in store for women, and gender equity in particular.
  • Azimio la Umoja One Kenya released its manifesto last month, which similarly makes sound promises in as far as the place of women and gender equality in their administration is concerned.

If the promises made to the women of Kenya by the leading political coalitions in the August General Election is anything to go by, the female gender will have little to complain about and protest against, in as far as (in)equity of the sexes is concerned, at least in political leadership.

Kenya Kwanza, whose presidential candidate is Deputy President William Ruto of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), has published a comprehensive charter that details the pledges in store for women, and gender equity in particular, should they emerge winners.

Their toughest competitors, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya released its manifesto last month, which similarly makes sound promises in as far as the place of women and gender equality in their administration is concerned.

Azimio, whose presidential candidate is ODM leader Raila Odinga, points out to the fact that the running mate, Martha Karua, is female, and thus, an affirmation that it will implement the promise of gender equity and women empowerment to the letter, on emerging victorious in the polls, just about a month away.

Constitutional provision

While the Constitution is explicit on the issue of gender equity in Parliament, the sticky question of the two-thirds gender requirement in sharing out of political positions, including at the appointive level, is still contrary to the reality.

Although there has been advancement, albeit slow, since 2013 after the first general election under the 2010 Constitution, lack of political goodwill to implement the gender rule has been obvious.

Following the 2017 poll, out of the 349 legislators in the National Assembly, only 76 were female. If the constitutional provision was to be obeyed to the letter, the outgoing House should have had at least 117 women MPs.

At the 67-member Senate, however, the situation is much better, with the House having made remarkable development on gender equity through Affirmative action.

Although only three women got elected to the House in that general election, Senator Agnes Kavindu Muthama emerged triumphant in March 2021, in a Machakos by-election and with her victory, the Senate was at hand to comply with the two-thirds gender principle.

In addition to the 16 women nominated by political parties, two other female senators represent the youth and persons with disability, respectively.

Thumbs up to Senate

And to its credit, the Senate has been supportive of female senators, complete with an established special gender desk to ensure not just a smooth working environment, but also to back them up through their legislative work. Consequently, women senators in the outgoing House have not only sponsored important bills and motions, but also comparatively, put in more debate hours.

There was a glimmer of hope when Jubilee took power in 2013 and 2017 with the promise to implement the two-thirds gender rule. However, tens of protests, campaigns, push and later caucusing by women rights organisations and other members of civil society, appointment of women to various positions started to trickle in and dribble.

Unfortunately, though, the enactment of the two-thirds gender rule remains problematic, with a clear indication of lack of political will both inside and outside Parliament. Application of the rule has equally remained elusive.

Now, Kenya Kwanza and Azimio lead the pack in promising women that the tacky matter of gender equity, and legislating of the two-thirds gender rule will be addressed and with it, an end to the all too common habit of short-changing women when it comes to its application principally in political leadership.

Elective and appointive levels

In the Kenya Kwanza Women Charter, which the coalition says was influenced by “diverse geographical, social, cultural and economic backgrounds articulated in numerous bottom-up” consultative forums with the people across the country, the coalition promises to implement the two-thirds gender rule in the public sector within 12 months of getting to office. This will involve elective and appointive level.

And to enforce this, Kenya Kwanza undertakes to work with the Public Service Commission and other government agencies to also guarantee implementation of the thorny constitutional provision. In addition, the coalition promises that half of its cabinet will comprise women. The charter has impressive promises for women in all the other key sectors, but the proof of this pudding will be in the eating.

On the other hand, Azimio spells out, in its manifesto, a comprehensive programme for women, dubbed ‘Azimio la Akina Mama’, which pledges affirmative action in all sectors. On political leadership, Mr Odinga pledges to implement fully, the two-thirds gender rule, in accordance with the Constitution. Women have had to contend with beautiful pledges on paper from political parties during elections season , only to end up being short-changed.

This time, women rights organisations, civil society and other Kenyans of goodwill should undertake to hold the incoming government and its leadership to account in as far as gender equity and equality are concerned. It is the right thing to do.

Ms Rugene, a former Nation Parliamentary editor, is founder, The Woman’s Newsroom Foundation; [email protected]


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