In March this year, the High Court of Kenya stated that parliament was committing “gross violations” for delaying the process of passing the Affirmative Action Bill.
The legislation agitates for increasing women representation by a third in key leadership areas such as the corporate and political fronts. However, there has been sustained opposition to the “Gender Rule” since the new constitution was enacted in 2010.
There are various reasons for the lack of political goodwill in allowing fair representation at all levels of leadership. Some women are unfortunate pawns in the larger scheme of reducing the quorum needed to pass the legislation. Moreover, certain female politicians are known to be catty and undiplomatic towards each other, thus creating the perception that they cannot be trusted.
There is also the notion that “gifting” women with a seat at the decision-making table is a sign that they are weak and incapable of fighting for elective posts.
Notably, women who are nominated in various roles in government are not entrusted with “heavy” responsibilities such as managing the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). They are thus designated to “ghettos” as one commentator put it, where their voice cannot be heard or their participation realised to the fullest.
Furthermore, socio-cultural norms confine women to domestic roles thus it is assumed that women cannot put up a “spirited fight” unlike their male counterparts when faced with the rigours of running for high office. In certain parts of Northern Kenya, the communities are predominantly clan based, and men are the sole decision makers. It is therefore not surprising that very few women will avoid vying for the “crowded” Women Representative and MCA seats to challenge their male counterparts running for either senator or governor positions.
There have been calls for aggressive civic education in these areas where the main religion, Islam, does not advocate for women to be “rebellious”. However, in other parts of Kenya, it has not been smooth sailing either. There are many reports of female political aspirants being attacked with crude weapons, sexually harassment, verbally abused, and all manner of propaganda geared towards discrediting them.
Often, female aspirants who are not thick-skinned give up their political ambitions, which means that the electorate either unwittingly promotes political dynasties or face a limited choice at the ballot box.
Perhaps the upcoming general elections can offer some respite for voters who want alternative solutions to their problems. The high number of independent candidates is an indicator that despite the odds being stacked heavily against women, there is still hope.
Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as saying that, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but she must take it because conscience tells her it is right.”