KENYA: Law Gives Women Powers to Contest Elections

Friday, August 24, 2012
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

Kenyan's new constitution is not only a historic landmark for Kenya, but a milestone in the East African women's rights movement.

It has opened the widest space for women's participation in public decision making, more so through Article 27, Kenya has joined its sister countries of East Africa in the use of constitutional quotas to advance women's political participation.

The basic premise is that the participation of women in decision-making roles in the public and private sectors is a human right, and will lead to more equitable development outcomes.

But the women aspirants are a worried lot as it seems to them to unlikely participate in the coming elections freely due to lack of funds and violence that is often meted on aspiring female contestants by male opponents.

“Hidden barriers in organizational cultures, social stereotypes, lack of skills and resources, including information and time, often work to undermine women's ability to succeed in leadership roles,” the chairperson, National Gender and Equality Commission Winfred Lichuma said.

Lichuma said that the ideology of gender roles is used by the patriarchal systems as an ideological tool to place women in the private sphere as mothers and wives and the place of men in public sphere.

“Domestic sphere is considered women's territory. Women have not managed to negotiate to get to the public sphere fully,” she added while addressing a regional dialogue on women political leadership that was attended by 300 women in Nairobi on Thursday.

She said that the dominance of men in politics, in political parties and in formal political structures is an obstacle to women's political participation.

National priorities are seen from the lens of men and not women, not many women have access to decision making positions in political parties. Voting for preferred candidates also works against women candidates.

Arrangement in political parties may reinforce and further perpetuate discrimination against women.

One factor that undermines women's political emancipation that has been enshrined in the constitution is the economic factor.

In order to participate in politics, it is necessary to have access to material resources since electoral campaigns are very expensive and women lack resources to manage campaigns.

Lichuma called on women aspiring for seats in the coming general elections to abandon traditional roles that have prevented them from reaching position of leadership.

She revealed that the national Gender and Equality Commission is soon launching a campaign dubbed “wise up to women leadership: keep the promise” that will aim at tackling political participation with a gender transforming perspective.

“The campaign shall call on all Kenyans and especially voters to consider women as responsible individuals capable of taking decisions and who are indispensable for their societies' democratization process,” she added.

But the UN Development Program Director for Gender Dr. Winnie Byanyima observed that evidence suggests that women who participate directly in decision-making bodies press for different priorities than those emphasized by men.

“They are often more active in supporting laws that benefit them, their families and children,” she said.

She said that increasing the numbers of women political leaders will assist Kenyans in achieving gender equality faster, and will also have positive development impacts.

She however noted that it is important to note that women are more likely to promote such laws and policy commitments when there is a critical mass of women leaders and when there are mechanisms to institutionalize collective action, such as women's caucuses or multiparty women's alliances.

It is a human right of women to have an equal voice over decisions that affect them by demonstrating their abilities and unique contributions in leadership roles.

Byanyima noted that Kenya , like the other countries of the region is inching forward towards equality of women and men in decision making.

She added that from research done elsewhere women's participation in political decision-making bodies has been shown to improve the quality of governance.

Through their leadership in civil society, women have influenced national and international responses to major development and political challenges of the 20th century.

Since the 1990s, women have been gaining political momentum; some in senior government positions, others in Parliament or serving as judges and in local governments.

This progress has been due to a combination of factors, including greater democratic consolidation in the region, recognition of women's political rights, improved access to education and the implementation of constitutional gender quotas.

The first country in the region to pass a quota law ensuring that a minimum number of women to be elected at local government and post conflict parliament levels was Uganda (in the mid- eighties).

Uganda went on to adopt a constitutional quota in 1995, guaranteeing one third of all local government seats to women and expanding the parliamentary quota. Tanzania followed soon after.

Today all countries ( Uganda , Rwanda , Burundi , Tanzania and Kenya ) of the region have some form of constitutional quota for women in politics.

The use of constitutional or legal quotas has been found to be effective in advancing women's political participation in other regions too – most notably, Scandinavia and Latin America .

Kenya's Chief Justice Willy Mutunga disclose that he has started a roundtable in recognition of Kenya's new Constitution which has opened a long overdue space for women to participate in leadership and decision-making in Kenya, through the provision of minimum gender quotas for all elected and appointed bodies.

He assured the delegates of his office commitment to justice for all, irrespective of their economic or social status, including gender, to protect and promote the Constitution.

“We are very conscious of our obligation to ensure equal access to justice for all – for women and men, boys and girls, for the rural or the urban, for rich or for poor,” he noted.

The ministry of justice has embarked on an ambitious program of judicial reform as a way to address electoral related judicial disputes and ensure that the post election violence events of 2007/ 08 are not repeated.

Mutunga said that it is regrettable that over the year, in the run-up to the last elections, we witnessed instances of manipulation, discrimination and violence against women, specifically targeted to confuse and intimidate in order to limit participation.

“We are mindful of that and we will be working hard to ensure that women enjoy their equal rights of participation in the upcoming elections - whether as voters, candidates or as election officials,” he added.

In the Beijing Platform for Action, the world's leaders committed to set a target of one third of seats for women in national parliaments.

This target, which was intended to be a floor and not a ceiling, was set more than a decade ago and, despite progress in some countries, the world has not reached it yet.

The latest statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union show that, as of August 2012, globally, women still hold only 19.8 percent of seats in both houses of parliament combined.

The Kenyan politics have been dominated by men due to the patriarchal nature of the Kenyan society.

Women who have made attempts to enter this male dominated field have suffered ridicule, harassment, sexual based violence, humiliation and gossip aimed at maligning their engagement with male counterparts.

Women's political careers for a long time have caused them suffering in both public and private life. For a long time women who spoke out against injustices meted to women were dismissed as divorcees.

There has been notable inequality in women's political participation and representation in Kenya .

Women political representation in Kenya is very low compared to other countries in the region. Currently it stands at 9.9 percent against Rwanda at 56.3 percent, Uganda 35 percent, Burundi 30.5 percent and Ethiopia and 27.8 percent.

“The principle must become a fundamental pillar of the electoral system. in the run up to the elections of 2013, it will be important to ensure that quotas are met through the application of gender-responsive electoral arrangements, support to women candidates, and the assurance of political will at the highest levels of political parties and government to overcome the gender imbalances in Parliament,” the UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator Dr. Aeneas Chuma said.

He said that as the country prepares for the 2013 General Election, enabling laws need to be implemented to ensure that at least one-third of women are elected and appointed to key decision- making institutions as required by the Constitution.

“Strong leadership, financial backing and consistent monitoring and inclusion of gender aspects into laws, policies and programs are needed for the implementation of the gender gains in the Constitution and the respect for the international agreements,” he noted.

Police commissioner Mathew Iteere assured women leaders that security will be beefed up during the campaigns and after general elections.

He observed that even though the number of police expected to monitor elections are few, efforts are being made to enjoin the prisons officials, National Youth Service staffs and the Kenya Wildlife Staff during the process.

But he called on members of the public to remain alert and inform the police of any act that threatens the peace of the country adding that incidences like what happened in 2007/2008 has to be avoided at all costs.

The women leaders told governments, civil society and international agencies to challenge and support parties to be more inclusive and accountable to their voters, both men and women.