Photo credit: Martha Karua SC @MarthaKarua
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Tracking the gender equation in Kenya’s August elections

Globally, only 25 percent of all national parliamentarians are women, and only 4 countries have 50 percent or more women in parliament. In Kenya, the statistics are no better.

Women accounted for 23 percent of the National Assembly and Senate seats; a number that includes seats reserved exclusively for women representatives. With more women encouraged to vie during the 2022 August elections, it remains to be seen whether this will yield the constitutional two-thirds gender rule.

Statistics on women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are dismal. Women remain underrepresented at all levels of decision-making globally. Achieving gender parity in political participation is a persistent problem for nearly all countries in the world. 

Let us look at the facts and figures.

According to UN Women, there are only 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries. Just 10 countries have a woman as a Head of State, while the remaining have a woman as Head of Government.

Officials check a voter’s identity at the polling station during the general elections in Sierra Leone in March 2018. Photo: CC BY-NC 2.0/Commonwealth Secretariat.

Only 14 countries have 50 percent or more women as government cabinet. Globally, 21 percent of women are government ministers. Even in those countries where women are given ministerial positions, their portfolios are restricted to family/children/youth/elderly/disabled ministries; social affairs ministries; environment/natural resources/energy ministries; employment/labour/vocational training ministries; or women affairs/gender equality ministries.

Only 25 percent of all national parliamentarians are women, an 11 percent increase from 1995. 

Only 4 countries in the world (Rwanda – 61 percent, Cuba – 53 percent, Bolivia – 53 percent and United Arab Emirates – 50 percent) have 50 percent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses.

The question of gender parity will remain a persistent concern in democratic processes, particularly in Africa

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action set targets for balanced political participation and power-sharing between men and women. The ambitious 50-50 target is far from being attained. Therefore, the question of gender parity will remain a persistent concern in democratic processes, particularly in Africa.

Low female representation translates into limited attention to gender issues, and the Kenyan scenario is not different. 

NDI and the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya) carried out a Gender Analysis of the 2017 elections and highlighted a few gains and drawbacks. Coming after the inauguration of a new constitution that promised gender equality, 29 percent of all candidates who ran for political offices in 2017 were women. This was the highest number that had ever been recorded in the country. The result: women won 172 out of the 1,883 seats on offer, an increase from the 145 in the 2013 elections.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Photo: Sophie van Leeuwen/RNW

From 2017–2022, women accounted for 23 percent of the National Assembly and Senate seats. However, his number is deceptive because it includes seats reserved exclusively for women representatives. 

The 2010 Constitution created the position of County Women Representative, as a member of the Kenya National Assembly to represent the interests of 47 counties. The seat was reserved for women.

The Constitution also envisaged a situation where no more than two-thirds of the members of National Assembly or Senate were of the same gender. While the courts ruled that both houses had failed to achieve the constitutional threshold for gender representation, the country is yet to come up with a formula for resolving the question in electoral politics.

There is a tussle between two arguments. One argument is to force political parties to nominate women to vie in certain political positions. However, with political plurality where different political parties can nominate candidates of different genders to vie for the same political positions, there is no guarantee that if one party nominates a woman and another nominates a man, the woman candidate will always prevail at the ballot box. The other argument is to amend the constitution to create provisions such as the County Women Representatives that reserve certain representative positions for women. 

Women’s representation can only be sustainably achieved through increased participation in elective politics

Women’s representation can only be sustainably achieved through increased participation in elective politics. FIDA in partnership with Womankind Worldwide recently conducted training dubbed the woman leadership academy to increase public discourse and participation of women in the August 2022 polls. The training sessions allowed current women legislators to share experiences with the 350 aspirants in attendance on political party processes, campaign strategies, mental awareness, and media training.

This followed the Vote-A-Dada campaign that FIDA launched in August 2021 to push more women to be on the ballot. Vote-A-Dada campaign “integrates the inter-sectional participation of women in the country to demand action from the State, the Legislature, and all other governance institutions in promoting women’s leadership,” said Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru, the chief guest at the training event.

As the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) moves to gazette candidates for the August 2022, anecdotal evidence suggests that this year’s elections will feature the highest number of women candidates in the history of the country’s electoral politics.

Photo credit: Martha Karua SC @MarthaKarua

The nomination of women into powerful political positions has always faced criticism as tokenism and political correctness. Critics argue that the mere presence and visibility of women in political positions, without due regard for merit, is counterproductive and devalues the criticality of competence in public service delivery. However, the nomination of Martha Karua as the Deputy Presidential candidate for one of the two leading political coalitions has shifted the gender equation to a new height.

The nomination of Martha Karua as the Deputy Presidential candidate for one of the two leading political coalitions has shifted the gender equation to a new height

Martha Karua is a revered Kenyan politician, a steadfast champion for human and women rights, a lawyer with a long history for fighting against authoritarianism and advancing the ideals of constitutionalism. Martha Karua ticks all the boxes. Far from elevating the value of gender in political representation, she also brings merit and experience. Martha Karua served for decades as a member of parliament for Gichugu Constituency. She is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She has served as the Minister of Water Resources Management & Development, and Minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs.

Celebrated by Kenyans as the “Iron Lady,” Karua is famous for her uncompromising principles. She resigned the Minister for Justice citing frustrations in discharging her duties. In a country where corruption is the second name for nearly all political figures, Martha’s long experience as a political leader and civil servant is untainted by corruption and bad governance practices. 

Electing a woman, as the Deputy President, positioning her a heartbeat from the Presidency, is testament that Kenya continues to build on the gains made over the past decades on achieving women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life. 

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