Why gender rule could remain a pipe dream at the ballot

Women march on Nairobi streets on September 23, 2020, in support of Chief Justice Maraga's advisory to President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve Parliament for failing to enact the two-thirds gender rule. 

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The Common Women Agenda (Cowa) last year unveiled an ambitious plan aimed at attaining the two-thirds gender rule in the August 9 General Election.
  • It revealed plans to have 5,000 women candidates to have a good chance of realising the gender goal, targeting at least 15 governors, 16 senators, 97 single constituency MPs and 483 MCAs.

The Common Women Agenda (Cowa) last year unveiled an ambitious plan aimed at attaining the two-thirds gender rule in the August 9 General Election.

It revealed plans to have 5,000 women candidates for various positions to have a good chance of realising the gender goal. From this number, Cowa targeted at least 15 elected governors, 16 elected senators, 97 single constituency MPs and 483 MCAs.

A communique issued after a meeting revealed it intended to make the plan a reality by initiating legislative amendments to secure full compliance by political parties with the gender rule in their lists of candidates.

Cowa, a consultative forum under the leadership of Public Service and Gender Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia, promotes women advancement in politics. However, in relation to the polls, it may fail to realise its agenda if the latest data by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Directorate of Voter Education and Partnerships is anything to go by.

Bleak future

The data show that only 1,962 women have been cleared to run in the August 9 polls. Male candidates are 14,137. The total number of voters in the country is 22.1 million, out of which 50.88 per cent are men and 49.12 are women.

Gender experts and political pundits opine that the low number of women candidates spells doom for Cowa’s goal of achieving the gender rule through the ballot.

The data also show that the number of party candidates is 11,574, while independent candidates are 4,526. Candidates aged 35 and below are 4,508, while those aged above 35 are 11,592.

Representation of women in Parliament remains minimal. It currently accounts for only 22 per cent, the lowest in East Africa, while in the 10th and 11 parliaments, it was 9.8 and 20.7 per cent respectively.

Of the 14,000 candidates who ran in 2017 General Election, only 1,300 were women, representing only nine per cent. A total of 172 women were elected out of the 1,883 elective seats in Kenya, though this marked an increase from 145 in the 2013 polls.

Speaking during Cowa’s event, UN Women country representative Anna Mutavati decried the low number of women in political leadership. She termed it shameful to see countries like Burundi and South Sudan, which are moving out of conflict, way ahead of Kenya in women representation.

“It is disheartening to see that Kenya is in the list of shame by being at the bottom in East Africa in terms of women representation at 21 per cent. We need to have 50 per cent of women leadership in 2030 and we only have nine years left.”


She challenged more women to come out and contest and called for mobilisation of resources to support women aspirants. An audit of the party primaries conducted in April, but whose findings were released last month, showed that negotiated democracy and direct nominations contributed largely to the failure of many women aspirants.

A Nairobi meeting revealed that negotiated democracy and direct nominations were a double-edged sword for female aspirants. It was organised by the Journalist for Human Rights (JHR), the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and Election Observation Group (Elog) to disseminate party primaries’ results.

Mr Mule Musau, Elog national coordinator, said negotiated democracy and direct nominations favoured women but also disenfranchised them in a big way. “Our audit shows that even though many political parties put women in the nomination lists after [initial lists] being rejected by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), they put women in areas where they were unlikely to win.”

Mr Musau added that some women faced discrimination and violence at the hands of their rivals. Lack of resources was also a hurdle.

“Many women who felt they lost unfairly lacked the money to lodge appeals to seek justice that they so badly needed. In some instances, they were asked for Sh20,000 for the MCA seat and the fee was higher for other seats, which they could not afford,” he said.

Mr Musau also cited rampant voter bribery during primaries as another major problem that confronted most women aspirants as they did not match the deep pockets of their male counterparts to influence and sway voters. Lack of strong nomination rules was another major setback as political parties failed to level the playground.

Media role

KNCHR assistant director Lucas Kimanthi said personalised attacks during the primaries were gender-angled and targeted female politicians. He noted the need for the media to promote participation of women in politics.

“The media need to focus on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) prior to, during and after election. This form of violence is usually rife during the election cycle in the country and it is, therefore, important to highlight it,” said Mr Kimanthi.

The 2010 Constitution brought hope by mandating the government to take steps to ensure not more than two-thirds of all elective and appointive positions are not held by the same gender. However, attempts to operationalise the provision have failed.

Ms Julia Nyokabi, who is vying for the Kangema parliamentary seat, told nation.africa that the struggle for women in politics continues, despite the low number of those who will be on the ballot.

“The progress is extremely slow and uneven. Women are still underrepresented in politics and public life. The challenges are many and not only limited to campaign costs,” said Ms Nyokabi, citing unfair fights pitting women against fellow women, lack of political education and commercialisation of Kenyan politics.

“Women are viewed as people who should only be given women-only seats and are, therefore, not allowed to sit on committees, in political parties, where decisions are made.”