Will it be 12th time lucky for gender rule? All eyes on MPs, again

Kenya National Association of Social Workers representative George Kombe, Gender Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa (centre) and two-thirds gender principle taskforce co-chair Daisy Amdany during the report handover by the taskforce at Kenya National Library Service in Nairobi, on February, 23, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The gender dilemma has stalked the 10th, 11th, 12th and current parliaments.
  • The principle mandates the state to ensure not more than two-thirds of members of all elective and appointive positions are of the same gender.

Women leaders and gender activists have been leading a spirited campaign for the past decade to have the government implement the two-thirds gender rule.

The gender dilemma has stalked the 10th, 11th, 12th and current parliaments. The principle mandates the three arms of government to ensure not more than two-thirds of members of all elective and appointive positions are of the same gender.

Eleven attempts, through bills in Parliament, to have the rule implemented have failed.

The latest attempt was the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2023, by nominated Senator Beth Syengo, also known as Beth Syengo Bill.

This was a replica of the 2019 bill by former senators Farhiya Haji and Mutula Kilonzo Jnr, except that it provided that a person be eligible for nomination to the National Assembly, Senate or county assembly once.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel if the latest developments are anything to go by. The Multi-Sectoral Working Group on the Realisation of Not More than Two-Thirds Gender Principle submitted its report on Friday to Gender Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa.

The team, which was co-chaired by Gender Principal Secretary Ann Wang’ombe and rights activist Daisy Amdany, has proposed a raft of measures to end the clamour for fair gender representation.

Besides developing a comprehensive report, it was mandated to propose legislative amendments to relevant laws to allow for full implementation of the principle.

The team has come up with an implementation framework for elective and appointive positions. Among the changes being fronted are amendments to the Constitution and the political parties and elections laws.

The proposals seek to eliminate barriers within the electoral system that hinder proportional representation.

The Elections Act changes will include introducing gender electoral units and modifying nomination to ensure gender balance.

Bridging shortfall

In the planned constitutional amendments, Ms Amdany said there will be a transitional clause to enable Parliament to conform to the gender principle. This means additional women MPs will be nominated to bridge the existing gap.

The team, however, declined a proposal to double the number of seats allocated to women. Instead, they have proposed a top-up model that applies to the county assemblies.

“Upon considering all the proposals that were given to us by different stakeholders, we resolved to present the gender top-up, a similar provision as what is provided for in the county assemblies,” Ms Amdany said.

Ms Jumwa termed the report a turning point in the quest for the gender principle, adding she would swiftly submit it to Parliament for debate.

“I am pleased with the work this group has done… We now have the political goodwill, which is paramount in making this a reality. The highest office in the land supports this cause. This journey has taken us more than 10 years and there are myriad reasons why we have not achieved this principle of the Constitution,” she said.

The CS appealed to President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga to marshal their parliamentary troops to put the matter to rest. She said the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) had given the planned changes a clean bill of health.

On Tuesday, Ms Jumwa met with Mr Odinga and handed him the report at his Capitol Hill office, Nairobi. She said the meeting was critical given the significance of the ODM leader’s input.

“His contribution to the journey for the gender-equality push has been enormous and is needed going forward.”

Raila backs reforms

Mr Odinga said he fully supports the report and called for its merging with the Nadco report so that they are passed as one in Parliament.

“Women need to have equal representation with men. They must be represented in key decision-making organs like Parliament and the Executive. Kenya is for all of us and cannot move forward without the involvement of women in the country’s development agenda.”

The proposals will require a two-thirds majority to pass in Parliament. This explains why the government has started lobbying opposition members to get adequate numbers.

“Once the desired changes are made in the Constitution and various laws, Parliament will be required to nominate additional women MPs to bridge the existing gap and make it compliant with gender rule,” Ms Amdany said.

They have also proposed a kitty to be named Women Inclusion Fund to support women in electoral offices. It seeks to have a gender-related fund within the political party’s fund or separately under the Political Parties Act to enable promotion of gender-related activities.

The team wants the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties to be given the power to de-register non-compliant parties in view of their rules, constitutions and lists of nominees for elections.

Another proposal requires all state ministries and departments to allocate at least two per cent of their budgets to gender-related projects.

Kennedy Otina, the executive director of Masculinity Institute who was part of the team, termed the report progressive and called on men and people of goodwill to support its implementation.

“The gender rule is not about women but for the good of both genders. One time we could have more women than men in elective or appointive positions and we could need men to be nominated to bridge the gap,” Mr Otina told Nation.Africa.

The group collected views through public participation forums, analysed past legislative proposals, and reviewed comparative studies on best practice, as well as expert opinions.

The gender rule recognises that certain segments of society, historically women, have been marginalised by the political system, hence the need for measures to guarantee their right to equality.

Ruto letter

In December 2022, Dr Ruto wrote a memorandum to the speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate that included a proposal on the gender rule.

He urged MPs to consider his proposal, stressing the constitutional need to implement the two-thirds gender rule. 

Dr Ruto proposed a top-up of 40 more women in the National Assembly and the Senate as is the case for the county assemblies.

“It is regrettable that implementation has become a conundrum. There is a profound sense that we have failed Kenya’s women and I believe it is time to make a decisive breakthrough.”

The President registered his commitment to avoiding the Executive being plunged into a stalemate with the Judiciary as witnessed under former President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“It is important to recall that in 2020, the Chief Justice (Rtd), [David Maraga], wrote to the President calling for the dissolution of Parliament due to its nonconformity to the two-thirds gender inclusion principle.”

The Head of State noted the benefits of implementing the gender rule. “Investment in women's empowerment would be worthwhile and would pay off eventually.

"I believe that trading off the increase in the parliamentary wage bill with the achievement of compliant inclusion of women in Parliament is eminently worthwhile. I, therefore, encourage you to seriously consider it,” his letter read.