Mr President, appoint women leaders who understand the law, can truly build a better Kenya

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Some of the women who participated in the protests against the Finance Bill 2024, outside walk outside Parliament buildings in Nairobi on June 18, 2024. 

What you need to know:

  • The Finance Bill controversy has exposed a disconnect between some women leaders and their constituents' needs, particularly regarding essential items like sanitary towels.
  • This has sparked public outcry and demands for more responsive leadership, highlighting the power of collective action by Kenyan women.
  • This calls for appointment of capable women leaders who truly understand and champion the issues affecting women and girls.

The recent controversy surrounding Kenya's Finance Bill, 2024 has served as a powerful reminder of the strength of public opinion and the crucial role of responsive leadership.

As Kenyans took to the streets in protest, their voices reached the highest echelons of power, ultimately compelling President William Ruto to reject the bill.

While this outcome marks a victory for democratic participation, it also demands introspection, particularly from women parliamentarians who supported the bill. Their endorsement of legislation that would have significantly increased prices of essential items, including sanitary towels and diapers, raises serious questions about their commitment to the welfare of Kenyan women and girls.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 clearly outlines the roles of Members of Parliament. The National Assembly is mandated to "deliberate on and resolve issues of concern to the people," with woman representatives specifically tasked to champion the interests of women and girls. By backing a bill that would have exacerbated life's challenges for their constituents, these leaders failed to uphold their constitutional duties.

This disconnect is particularly disheartening coming from parliamentarians who have previously positioned themselves as advocates for women's rights. Some have spearheaded high-profile campaigns distributing sanitary towels and speaking out against period poverty. Their support for the Finance Bill starkly contradicts these public personas.

The arrogance displayed by some, with one woman leader boldly declaring she would vote 'yes' again during the second reading, is especially concerning. This attitude demonstrates a lack of empathy for the struggles of ordinary Kenyan women and girls who would have borne the brunt of these price increases.

One particular leader's actions have been especially troubling. From her initial support of the Finance Bill to her misrepresentation of a partnership with a feminine hygiene product company, she has shown a profound disconnect from the real needs of women and girls. Her dismissive attitude towards concerns about sanitary pad prices, coupled with a claim to a partnership that the firm has since denied, has severely damaged her credibility.

However, the public outcry and subsequent reversal of the bill offer an opportunity for these leaders to reassess their positions and reconnect with their constituents. The women of Kenya have sent a clear message; they expect their representatives to prioritise their needs over political alignments or personal interests.

This moment serves as a wake-up call for women leaders who supported the bill. Their constituents are watching and demanding better. It's time for these leaders to recommit to the principles they campaigned on, engage with their constituencies, listen to concerns, and advocate for policies that genuinely improve lives.

For the women and girls of Kenya, this episode demonstrates the power of their collective voice. The protests against the Finance Bill, with hundreds of young women on the frontlines, have shown that speaking up can effect change. They must continue to hold their representatives accountable and demand that they truly champion their rights and interests.

Looking forward, President Ruto should consider this when reconstituting the government. Meeting the two-thirds gender representation requirement is crucial, but so is the quality and capability of the women selected. Kenya needs knowledgeable women who understand the law and the genuine needs of all citizens.

The focus should shift from political cronyism in affirmative action appointments, to nominating women who truly understand the issues, have a firm grasp of the law, and can effectively use their positions of power to build a better Kenya for all.

Kenya faces significant financial challenges, and the high salaries of leaders are funded by taxpayers who deserve proper representation and value for their money. The country has no shortage of brilliant, capable women who can speak for and serve their fellow citizens effectively – from Lokitaung to Malindi, Mandera to Kisii.

We already have exceptional women serving as MPs, governors, senators, and MCAs who are making substantial impacts. If all our women leaders emulated their example, Kenya could fulfill the vision our freedom fighters held when we achieved independence in 1963.

As we move forward, let this episode be a turning point – a moment when women leaders recommit to their responsibilities and when the women of Kenya reaffirm their determination to be heard. The choice is now clear for our elected women leaders: Will they learn from this experience and stand firmly with the women of Kenya, or will they continue to prioritise political expediency? Their future actions will speak louder than any words, and the women of Kenya will be watching closely.