No Double Standards! Kenyan Politicians must Walk the Talk for Equal Representation in all Leadership Levels

There’s an Ethiopian proverb that says “When a woman rules, streams run uphill.” Indeed, women are the backbone of democratic governance. They are a driving force and agents of change toward local, national and global development. Sadly, women’s leadership and political participation remain dismal due to patriarchal systematic barriers and entrenched discriminatory laws and practices that persist in our societies.

The world has evolved and women can no longer be ignored or looked down upon, especially in political and public life. Women have continued to challenge the retrogressive and patriarchal beliefs that discriminated against them for decades by shuttering glass ceilings and scaling heights in the academia, politics, businesses and corporates. It is sad though that a fraction of the mass considers women’s leadership and empowerment a threat to the male dominant leadership and this calls for a transformation of the mindset. Undeniably, an equitable balance of power is necessary in steering meaningful and transformative change.

Legal Frameworks for Women’s Leadership

It is now 25 years since governments, including Kenya, unanimously adopted and committed to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth United Nations World Conference and six years since adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. These historical blueprints marked the turning point for the global agenda on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls who for eons remained overlooked and under-represented. The treaties recognize women’s rights as human rights by articulating a vision of equal rights, freedom and opportunities for women, everywhere.

In his speech during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 2020), President Uhuru Kenyatta reiterated his support and commitment to the implementation of the long overdue legal instrument terming it as a powerful source of inspiration in the advancement of the rights of women and girls in Kenya. “Gender equality remains central to the development agenda of my administration as is indeed enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya”, President Kenyatta reaffirmed.

While Kenya has adopted progressive policies and legal frameworks to promote, implement and monitor the realization of gender equality, these commitments remain a promise as full implementation is far-fetched. The persistent pressure from the civil society and the judiciary towards the implementation of the two-thirds gender representation in elective and appointive positions have not borne fruits. The now retired Chief Justice Hon. David Maraga, goes down in history for his bold move in advising the President to dissolve the Parliament for its deliberate failure to fully implement the affirmative action as stipulated in the constitution.

Political Goodwill and action is key to women’s Leadership

Political goodwill is key in shaping the equal leadership agenda that has since time immemorial been marred by patriarchal systems that deem women as weak and sensitive to handle technical assignments such as political leadership.

In 2010, Kenya promulgated a new Constitution that guarantees equality and freedom for all regardless of race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress and language of birth.

The constitution provides equal treatment for both women and men to fully participate in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. To fully effect the realization of this freedom, the state is charged to institute affirmative action program and policies to redress any inequalities, including the legislation of Article 27 (8) which mandates the state to take legislative and other measures to ensure that no more than two-thirds of the members of elective and appointive bodies are of the same gender.

Whereas this progressive provision has been instrumental in the creation of 47 women representatives and special seats in the Parliament, the implementation has not taken full effect in the rest of the legislative, executive and the judicial arms of the Government. As a best practice, affirmative action should be replicated across all the elective and appointive positions starting from schools, higher learning institutions, social institutions and workplaces: parastatals, public and private sectors, corporates and informal sectors. Equal representation of women in ALL decision-making spaces is a right for all women.

With the 2022 general elections fast approaching and political temperatures hitting the ceilings courtesy of Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), the envisaged united and prosperous Kenya stand to be achieved through full implementation of the constitution which amicably addresses the systematic inequalities and historical injustices such as power imbalances, discrimination, violence and human rights violations.

COVID-19 pandemic

The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic ravaged across the globe and some of the worst hit countries were African countries whose GDP per capita lingers at $1,970 (2020). The health crisis left masses infected and affected from all spheres of life, including the erosion of the hardly fought gains of women’s leadership.

While many countries are still struggling to contain the virus and its aftermath, women-led countries such as New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, and Germany among others have demonstrated exponential leadership in delivering proactive and engendered mitigation. The strategies have seen them survive the scathing pandemic by recording minimal COVID-19 statistics and offering safety nets for their masses.

While BBI has seemingly disrupted the urgency and fatality of COVID-19, FEMNET remains assertive and fearless in advocating for dignified, inclusive and just COVID-19 response and recovery in Kenya, including the advocacy for equal representation of women in the National Emergency Response Committee (NERC) on Coronavirus in Kenya as a means of building forward better.

Defying the odds, women reclaiming leadership

The current trend in Kenya politics is based on tribe, party affiliation and economic spine of the candidates. Campaigns are costly and financially draining thus most women, without adequate support are curtailed from advancing their political ambitions and threatened to pull out of the race prematurely, to the advantage of their male counterparts.

Violence has also become a catalyst for political discrimination. Opponents hire goons and bloggers to intimidate, threaten, attack, assault and violate women, especially young women leaders by forcing them to withdraw from the race for safety reasons. In addition, the political parties are yet to comply with the gender balance policy as stipulated in the Political Parties Act, 2011.

Given equal resources, women are capable of winning against their male counterparts during election primaries and general elections. Key example is the ousting of the then powerful Bomet County Governor, Hon. Isaac Ruto by the late Governor Hon. Joyce Laboso during the 2017 general election and Agnes Kavindu Muthama’s relentless campaign against patriarchal barriers fronted against her by family to win the Machakos County senatorial by-election with a landslide margin.

It is time the electorates, government, electoral management bodies, civil societies and development partners back up women contestants to deliver at the ballot and in office.

Women Leaders shattering the political glass ceilings for all women

While Kenya has had unsuccessful women presidency attempts in Martha Karua, Charity Ngilu and Nazlin Omar, we laud them for inspiring more women to venture into political leadership in the gubernatorial, national assembly, senate and county assemblies. Regrettably, at 21% women representation in the parliament, Kenya lags way behind Rwanda (61%), South Africa (46%), Namibia (44%) and Senegal (43%) who have showcased exemplary leadership models as far as equal gender representation in politics and governance are concerned.

The year 2021 goes into history as a progressive year for women’s leadership. On January 20, 2021, the world witnessed the inauguration of the first woman vice president of the United States of America, Kamala Harris. This was later followed by the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the new Director General of the World Trade Organization in February and recently, closely home, the swearing in of Her Excellency Samia Suluhu Hassan as the sixth President of the Republic of Tanzania on March, 19th.

These historical transitions are a wake-up call to all Kenyan women to come out ambitiously, boldly and fearlessly to challenge the unequal gender representation in decision-making spaces by advocating for full implementation of the constitution, social and financial safeguards for women leaders, candidates and aspirants in the realization of the Kenya, Africa and the world we want.

With this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD 2021) focusing on Women’s Leadership in achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world and the ongoing United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65) centering on Women’s  full and effective participation and decision-making in public life as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,  we call upon the President of Kenya, who also serves as the member of the UN Security Council and a Co-Leader of the Generation Equality Forum; Action Coalition on gender based violence, Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta to walk the talk and deliver the two-thirds gender rule to Kenyans. Women Must Lead!

Memory Kachambwa is the Executive Director, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) (m.kachambwa@femnet.or.ke / @kachambwa)

This article is also available on Nation website. Here’s the link: Leaders need to walk the talk on equal representation at all levels

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