What Kewopa’s 4-year strategic plan means for gender rule

A march on Nairobi streets on September 23, 2020, in support of Chief Justice's advisory directing the dissolution of Parliament for failing to enact the two-thirds gender rule. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Women legislators used the launch of the document to shed light on the disparities and obstacles encountered on their journey.
  • Since Independence in 1963, the struggle for women's representation in politics has been a persistent challenge.

The Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa) on December 20 launched a four-year strategic plan aimed at enhancing members’ capacities, attaining the two-thirds gender rule, increasing women in political leadership, and strengthening its secretariat.

This move comes against the backdrop of a longstanding struggle to achieve the constitutional two-thirds gender rule in Parliament. Kenya has witnessed a dynamic political history, with pivotal moments shaping the trajectory of the nation.

Since Independence in 1963, the struggle for women's representation in politics has been a persistent challenge. The push for gender equality gained momentum in the early 1990s when multiparty politics was reintroduced. The subsequent constitutional reforms in 2010 marked a significant step forward with the inclusion of the two-thirds gender rule, requiring not more than two-thirds of elective public bodies to be of the same gender.

However, the journey to achieve this constitutional provision has been arduous, with several attempts facing obstacles. Despite the legal framework advocating gender parity, the actual representation of women in elective positions has fallen short.

The political landscape has been characterised by a male-dominated environment, posing challenges for women seeking political office. In the National Assembly, for instance, out of the 290 elected members, only 28 are women after Cabinet Secretary Alice Wahome resigned to head the Water ministry. She currently heads the Lands docket.

On the other hand, we have 47 women elected from the counties and 12 nominated representatives. In the Senate, out of the 67 senators, two women are elected and others 16 are nominated. This shows how far we are from achieving the gender rule as provided in the Constitution.

With the figures in mind, the Kewopa strategic plan emerges as a crucial catalyst for change, addressing the historical disparities and working towards realising the gender rule. The plan signifies a commitment to empowering women in politics, enhancing their capacities, and increasing their representation at all levels of governance.

“Our primary objective is to amplify the representation of women in Parliament. As we approach the 2027 General Election, our focus is not only to maintain but to augment the number of women in parliament, aligning with the constitutional mandate of achieving the two-thirds gender rule,” Kewopa chairperson Leah Sankaire told Nation.Africa.

She said they would collaborate with like-minded actors to increase the number of elected women in 2027. “We want to increase the number of women in the Senate from three to 10, in the National Assembly from 29 to at least 40, members of county assemblies (MCAs) from 82 to at least 200, and governors from seven to 15.”

The plan also underscores the importance of strengthening members’ legislative capacity. This involves training them to effectively address issues affecting women and present them for legislation.

“Within the scope of this strategic plan, we are dedicated to fortifying the capabilities of our members on legislative matters. Our aim is to provide comprehensive training, building the capacity of our members to effectively articulate issues that directly impact them within the parliamentary setting.

“Additionally, we are committed to championing bills that empower women, particularly at the grassroots level, ensuring tangible advancements for women's rights.

“This strategic plan is not just about Kewopa members; it is aimed at changing the lives of women at the grassroots level. It looks at how members of Parliament can articulate issues affecting women in the areas they are representing and bring the legislation that can change the lives of women down there," emphasised Ms Sankaire.

The launch of the plan became a forum for these women legislators to share their struggles, providing insights into the intricacies of navigating the political landscape as women. They highlighted the necessity to work 10 times harder and endure harsh conditions during campaigns to secure victory.

MPs Millie Odhiambo (Suba North), Martha Wangari (Gilgil), Beatrice Elachi (Dagoretti North), Catherine Mumma (nominated senator) and Joyce Kavindu (Machakos senator) said they have resiliently embodied the persona of "women of steel" to navigate and endure the complexities of the political landscape.


The women MPs narrated the challenges they undergo while seeking election, emphasising the stark contrast with their male counterparts. When given a chance to speak, Ms Kavindu recounted an incident in the lead-up to the 2022 election when attempts were made to manipulate women into running for the Machakos senatorial seat to impede her candidacy.

She expressed her gratitude to the women associated with Kenya Kwanza for demonstrating resilience and refusing to be pawns in this political manoeuvre.

“I extend my appreciation to Kenya Kwanza women for refusing to be used as political tools. Despite being urged to contest against me for the Machakos senatorial seat, they steadfastly rejected such attempts. This is how we should be supporting each other at all times.”

The other challenge is the push for the two-thirds gender rule. Achieving this constitutional requirement has been a longstanding struggle marked by numerous attempts, setbacks, and a need for relentless advocacy. The lawmakers claimed their male counterparts, often divided along political affiliations, united to defeat associated bills in the House.

Moreover, when motions and petitions touching on women's issues such as female genital mutilation and provisions on sanitary towels were lined up for debate, male legislators frequently walked out, dismissing these matters as irrelevant to them, the women MPs said.

They gave an example where Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba was kicked out of a Senate plenary for wearing stained attire. Ms Orwoba had attended the session in a white blazer, green top, and matching white trousers that had a red stain. To the women MPs, this was period stigma, a matter they say needed to be addressed.

Ms Odhiambo, serving her fourth term, supported the push for the gender requirement, citing her entry to Parliament through affirmative action. “Please, continue bringing laws that will bring back the dignity of women. Let us support each other because this is the only way we can move forward,” she urged.

Ms Wangari, who was representing Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetang’ula, emphasised the success of affirmative action, pointing to herself and Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda as examples of lawmakers who got elected from single-member constituencies after first becoming legislators through nomination.

Affirmative action benefits

“We have demonstrated how affirmative action works. I think it is time we had this law passed. I believe that with the goodwill from both the President and the opposition, we will crack this one,” she said.

She further shed light on the challenges she faced when she joined Parliament as a nominated senator, including having a two-month-old baby and being maligned. “They used to label me as ‘senator wa mtoto' (the senator with a child). At that time, finding a place for breastfeeding was a challenge. However, I advocated a change in legislation, and, as a result, we now have designated spaces where we can breastfeed and even attend to our children's needs.”

Nominated Senator Catherine Mumma expressed her disappointment at the additional efforts women in Parliament need to put in to be acknowledged. She highlighted that women's issues are often relegated to the background, with subjects that favour men being prioritised.

However, Ms Elachi appealed to Dr Ruto to engage with women beyond political affiliations. “I urge the President to convene a dedicated meeting with women, solely focused on addressing the issues that significantly impact them. Despite engaging with various groups, there has not been a special meeting with women just to discuss the things that affect them.

“It is time to rectify this omission and ensure women’s concerns are given the attention they rightfully deserve,” she said.