Q+A: Kenya "running out of time" to bring more women into parliament - lawyer

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 6 December 2013 15:32 GMT

A woman sells vegetables below the campaign posters of Nairobi Senator Margaret Wanjiru in Kenya's capital Nairobi, February 22, 2013, ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

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Kenya's female lawyers are preparing a bill to guarantee women one-third of seats in parliament, at the same time the government is dragging its feet on meeting this constitutional requirement

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Kenya’s female lawyers are preparing a bill to guarantee women one-third of all seats in parliament, at the same time the government is dragging its feet on meeting this constitutional requirement.

In Kenya, women have performed poorly in elections, at best winning only 8 percent of elected seats in parliament. Violence, cultural and social stereotypes, lack of money and lack of party connections tend to lock women out of politics.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution raised hopes that things would change. It said no more than two-thirds of the members of any elective public body should be of the same gender. This meant that additional women would be nominated to the national assembly and the senate to boost their numbers to one-third.

But the legislation required to spell out the details of this article of the constitution has not been introduced.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the government has until 27 August 2015 – the fifth anniversary of the introduction of the 2010 constitution – to do so.

Mariam Kamunyu, a lawyer with the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA), spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation about the challenges involved.

Q: Why is there a delay in implementing the constitution?

A: The delay is really to do with patriarchy. No one wants to include women. The people that are in power are the men. They don’t stand to benefit from this. It’s been a struggle consistently. So we need to keep on pushing.

Q: What is FIDA doing about it?

A: At FIDA, we are working on an affirmative action bill and we are also going to start working on a mechanism to realise the two-thirds principle.

Whatever legislation we are coming up with would only be a popular version because the institution with the mandate to do this is the Attorney General. Only the Attorney General can present this legislation and so far there have been no steps from that office.

Q: Is there enough time?

A: I dare say that we are already out of time because of the lobbying that is required and the sort of public education that is required. For this to be in place by 27 August 2015, I say we are running late.

Q: What needs to be done?

A: A clear constitutional amendment would solve this. It can be amended by a majority vote at the national assembly. It is a simple clause to be added to Article 97 that defines the national assembly that says ‘as such number to fulfil the two-thirds principle’.

Q: What will happen if the 2015 deadline is missed?

A: That would be a constitutional crisis. I hope we don’t get to that. We will be in violation of the constitution.

You are actually allowed to go to court when there is threat to a right. That would certainly happen. The Supreme Court would then be forced to issue orders for that legislation to be developed.

Q: What do you say to critics who say it will be too expensive, costing $50 million a year to finance nominated women?

A: It would be my dream for it to be a redundant clause, that eventually we use it for just a handful of nominations. It is quite costly to have more members of parliament. But if that is the price that we have to pay to get women into leadership, then so be it.

Q: Is there another way to get more women into parliament, apart from nomination?

A: I believe without a doubt that the solution to actualising the two-thirds principle is with political parties. We wouldn’t need to have a constitutional amendment if we had political will.

If we had parties agreeing, that out of every four constituencies, we are going to make sure that in one we are being represented by a woman – and then throw party machinery behind her to make sure that she actually succeeds – that would make a big difference.

You would have more women elected and then less women to nominate.

Q: Did women realise any gains in the 2013 elections?

A: For the county assemblies, we did manage to actualise the two-thirds principle because the constitution did provide a mechanism to correct this through nominations. The way we do the nominations is by picking the names from the party lists in proportion to the parties’ wins.

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