Push for women’s political representation and the gender rule puzzle

MYWO national chairperson Rahab Muiu (third left) with treasurer Susan Owino (centre) join other members at an event in Kisumu in March last year. Former Governor Charity Ngilu has challenged the organisation to use its numerical strength to push for equal representation at the executive and parliament.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya has failed to enact a law supporting more capable women in various political leadership capacities.
  • Since 2011, there have been 12 unsuccessful attempts at legislating the not more than two-thirds gender principle.

In most households, the responsibility of planning family meals often falls on the wife's shoulders. When a child requires a hospital visit, it is typically the mother who requests time off from work to provide necessary care.

Attending parent-teacher meetings at school is also commonly a maternal responsibility. Only in exceptional circumstances, such as single-parent households, widowhood, the wife's absence, or special arrangements, do men assume these duties.

The ability of women to seamlessly coordinate and accomplish these tasks is a testament to their multitasking and organisational skills. Families function smoothly thanks to the efforts of women, a fact substantiated by statistical evidence. Their leadership in managing household affairs and familial responsibilities is undeniable.

Last year, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics revealed a stark disparity: men spent merely 54 minutes per day on unpaid care work, including cooking, laundry, and childcare, while women devoted four and a half hours to these tasks.

Without the leadership prowess of women, homes would be chaotic environments. Their organisational abilities bring order, ensuring the smooth existence of every household member.

Thus, we are products of women as leaders in the homes; the influence, skills, and capabilities they possess can be extended to public spaces if given the chance and prepared for the opportunity.

Gary Yukl, a retired professor of management, defines leadership as "the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives."

Throughout history, even before Kenya's independence, women have proved to be exemplary leaders – from the Gabra traditional women architects to the Kamba prophetess Syokimau, the Kisii prophetess and traditional healer Moraa Ng'iti, the Embu dancing warrior Cierume, and the Giriama revolutionist Mekatilili wa Menza.

In a recent survey involving 17 individuals (10 men and seven women) from various professions, including politicians, journalists, teachers, and boda boda operators in Nairobi, Vihiga, Kisii, Embu, and Homa Bay, nearly all (15) cited Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga as an example of women's ability to excel in leadership roles when given the opportunity. The remaining two mentioned Chief Justice Martha Koome and Githunguri Member of Parliament (MP) Gathoni Wamuchomba.

Last year, a survey by Infotrak ranked Wanga as the best-performing governor alongside her counterpart, Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya.

Despite this, Kenya has failed to enact a law supporting more capable women in various political leadership capacities. Since 2011, there have been 12 unsuccessful attempts at legislating the not more than two-thirds gender principle.

However, fulfilling this constitutional requirement provided in Articles 27(8), 81(b), and Article 100 was part of the agenda of the bipartisan national dialogues, resulting in the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) report.

Preceding Nadco was the establishment of a 23-member multi-sector working group, whose expected outcome was to provide a workable framework for implementing the principle. The taskforce concluded with a recommendation adopting a top-up mechanism to increase women's numbers in Parliament.

For the National Assembly, it recommended amending Article 97(1) to provide that "the number of special seat members necessary to ensure that no more than two-thirds of the membership of the National Assembly are of the same gender." For the Senate, it proposed a similar change to Article 98(1).

These changes could translate into 53 more women nominated to the current National Assembly and two to the Senate, meeting the threshold. These would be done through amendments to the Elections Act and Political Parties Act, already tabled in Parliament.

Legislators are convinced that in the 13th attempt, the law will pass, citing a bipartisan approach to its enactment.

“This time round, this bill is coming up as a negotiated bill riding on the back of the Nadco process. Therefore, there is a sense of bipartisan approach to its enactment, and perhaps it will see the light of day," said Minority Leader in the National Assembly and Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.

"In the past, many factors contributed to the failure of this bill, and of course, one reason was that it was perceived as a women's bill, and it is the women propagating that. It can never be a woman's agenda because the two-thirds gender law can apply both ways."

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo said women have always been leaders, only that they are denied the opportunities to lead.

“Women are leaders in our homes, at school, (and) in government systems," she said. "Many women don't participate in leadership because of bottlenecks. If we pass the two-thirds gender law, we will have one tool of affirmative action."

Kisii Woman Representative Doris Donya Aburi said male legislators have already expressed their support for the two-thirds gender law.

"When we have a conversation with most of them, they say 'look at Gladys Wanga. She is doing a really good job.' They feel that if we had more women in leadership, Kenyans' lives will greatly improve,” she said.

Gitonga Mukunji, Manyatta MP and chair of young parliamentarians, is among the male MPs ready to support the bill.

"The fact that we have not resolved this issue almost 14 years post-Constitution is an underachievement in terms of implementation of the Constitution, and we must resolve it now."

"One of the challenges women leaders face is that we still have a mentality that women don't belong to leadership. There are places where women can't be elected, yet we have seen them do great jobs in the roles given, like Chief Justice Martha Koome," he noted.

In Homa Bay, Samuel Oluoch, who has lived there for more than 10 years, has witnessed economic transformation in the county, including road development, especially over the past year after the 2022 election. He says most development projects that impact residents directly have been realised during Governor Gladys Wanga's reign.

Samuel notes that the current administration is concerned about hygiene, especially in towns where cleaners ensure waste is collected every morning.

His main concern, however, is power outages, particularly in markets, faulting the county government for delayed payment of electricity bills. Additionally, he is troubled by the sluggish circulation of money, exacerbated by the delayed payment of salaries to county government employees. He gives Governor Wanga a score of 75 per cent.

The two-thirds gender rule has a history of unsuccessful attempts. In November 2018, an attempt to enact the Bill was aborted after the then leader of Majority and mover Aden Duale (Garissa Township) withdrew it at the debate stage.

This was after Duale sensed there were not enough MPs in the House to send it to the third reading stage. The Constitution provides that at least two-thirds majority or 233 of the 349 MPs in the National Assembly are required to be present before such a constitutional amendment Bill is voted for to proceed to the next stage: the third reading.

The failure of the Bill saw Duale and his Kiminini colleague Dr Chris Wamalwa accuse women MPs of skipping House sittings when they should have been present to support the Bill. "Every time we were discussing the Bill; the women were out of the country: went to New York. In 2018, there were over 32 women who were missing in this House," Duale said of his failed Bill.

Had voting on the Bill proceeded despite the quorum hitch, it would have required at least six months to be introduced afresh, thanks to the Standing Orders.

This is the reason it was reintroduced in February 2019 but again failed at the debate stage as there were not enough MPs to progress it to the next level. Interestingly, about 20 women MPs were in the House at the time their support was highly required to move it forward.

"We have been in this Parliament, and when voting was going on here, they were away to gain allowances as opposed to advancing this cause. The two-thirds rule was not achieved because of their selfish interests," Dr Wamalwa said.

A sneak preview of the journey the two-thirds gender Bill has travelled dates back to the 10th Parliament. Then Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, the late Mutula Kilonzo, sponsored the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2011, to address the gender puzzle in elective and appointive public bodies. However, the Bill elapsed at the end of the 10th Parliament before it could be debated.

In 2015, former Ainabkoi MP Samuel Chepkonga published the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill. This proposal sought to progressively achieve the gender principle, but it lapsed before the conclusion of debate at the end of the 11th Parliament.

Also in the 11th Parliament, Mr Duale sponsored the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2015, which was published and introduced. However, it met an unfortunate fate at the debate stage, failing to garner the required constitutional voting threshold to proceed to the third reading. It needed the support of at least two-thirds, or 233 of the 349 MPs in the National Assembly, to move to the third reading stage.

Undeterred, Duale introduced another constitutional amendment Bill, 2015, but it, too, collapsed at the end of the 11th Parliament. Duale's Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015, was another attempt to address the gender issue, seeking to amend electoral laws to give effect to Article 81(b) of the Constitution. Regrettably, it was lost. He also had an Election Laws Amendment Bill published, proposing to give effect to Article 100 of the Constitution and promote the representation in Parliament of women, youth, persons with disabilities, other ethnic minorities, and marginalized communities.

It proposed amending the Elections Act, Political Parties Act, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act, and National Gender and Equality Commission Act. However, this Bill too collapsed at the end of the 11th Parliament. Chepkonga sponsored the Two-Thirds Gender Rule (Amendment) Bill, 2015, which was published and aimed to give effect to Article 100 of the Constitution. Sadly, it too elapsed at the end of the 11th Parliament.

The Political Parties (Amendment) Bill, 2016, sponsored by Chepkonga, required each political party to include special interest groups in its governing body in accordance with Article 100. This Bill was signed into law on June 30, 2016, but political parties have yet to actualize it.

In Homa Bay County, Zainab Awino, a fish trader, is happy with her governor's leadership. She says Wanga has helped many women, especially in health facilities where services have improved dramatically. She also notes that towns are clean.

In Homa Bay County, Zainab Awino, a fish trader, expresses satisfaction with Governor Wanga's leadership. She highlights the governor's efforts in improving services for women, particularly in health facilities, where dramatic enhancements have been witnessed. Additionally, Awino commends the cleanliness of towns, attributing it to the regular waste collection by workers. She also acknowledges the urban road development, which has connected residential areas with new roads.

However, is concerned over the county government's failure to develop rural roads. She notes that movement in rural areas is difficult due to impassable roads, especially during rainy seasons. This, she says, hinders the transportation of agricultural goods to the market.

Electing more capable women into leadership positions is crucial for advancing gender equality and fostering a more inclusive and representative society.

Manyatta MP Gitonga Mukunji emphasises that "woman or man, one is supposed to get a fair chance to lead."