Storm rages over proposal to drop women seats
Posted Friday, August 19 2011 at 22:30
The storm started by a Cabinet plan to drop a requirement that a third of elective posts be held by women raged on Friday, with their leaders vowing they would not budge an inch. (Read: Plan to drop women seats from new laws)
Speaker after speaker at a national women’s constitutional conference at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre attacked the proposal.
Fida-Kenya executive director Grace Maingi fired the first salvo: “Despite the Cabinet discussion yesterday (Thursday) the Constitution is clear on what women are getting,” she said.
Catherine Muma of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution took the meeting through the provisions of the Constitution which she said would require a referendum to amend and tore apart a suggestion that implementation would be progressive and that it needed a parliamentary majority.
“The drafters were very clear. On more than four areas they used the word progressive in regard to socio-economic rights (article 21), disability (article 54), article 82 on citizenship. What difficulty was there in using the word with regard to the current question?” Ms Muma asked.
Given free seats
She said the CIC was calling on the public to suggest how the threshold could be met.
“We are jittery because we fear it will open the floodgates to amendments which could mutilate the Constitution,” she said.
Supporting the women leaders was University of Nairobi lecturer, Prof Karuti Kanyinga, who said the issue was not about chairs, but representation of hitherto marginalised sections of society.
“Some are saying why should women be given free seats. I say it is not about seats or chairs but about an opportunity to articulate the concerns of society in an inclusive manner,” he said, adding that the women’s demands had the support of the public, civil society and the international community.
He said the principle was the foundation for a strong social justice system.
While speakers agreed on the need to find a way of implementing the principle, they said that the problem arose because the new Constitution was a highly negotiated document.
“The problem is that the Constitution is a modern, liberal and progressive document while we are a very conservative society. We need to move fast as a country to catch up,” said Prof Kanyinga.
A former commissioner in the committee of experts on the constitutional review, Mr Bobby Mkangi, said they had anticipated the difficulty in implementing the clause.
“We knew the clause was not clear on the manner the threshold would be achieved but we knew that if we put our heads together as a country we would find a way out,” he said.
The chairman of the National Council of NGOs, Mr Ken Wafula, proposed that all new constituencies be set aside for women.
ODM nominated MP Sofia Abdi Noor and vice chair of the Women Parliamentary Association came out fighting, saying it was hard for women to compete with men on an equal footing because of socio-cultural issues.
She said most women did not have the financial muscle to sustain a campaign as they had been marginalised for a long time.