Women MPs’ quota ‘hard to enforce’

Wednesday June 15 2011

Photo/ FILE  Women MPs consult at the Kenya Institute of Administration on March 20, 2010 as lawmakers sought consensus on the draft Constitution.

Photo/ FILE Women MPs consult at the Kenya Institute of Administration on March 20, 2010 as lawmakers sought consensus on the draft Constitution. Kenya’s constitution states that there will be 47 women in National Assembly, each elected from the counties. 

By LUCAS BARASA [email protected]

It will be difficult to enforce the requirement that a third of elected officials be women, the interim electoral commission has said.

This could spark a constitutional crisis because the new Constitution demands that at least a third of MPs representing the 290 proposed constituencies after the next elections be women.

Chapter Seven on representation states that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.

The Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) has therefore invited Norwegian and South African experts to advise it on how to achieve the required representation, chairman Issack Hassan said on Wednesday.

“It is a hard nut to crack,” Mr Hassan said at the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) during a voter curriculum validation workshop.

The curriculum was developed by KIE to help reduce voter apathy.

The IIEC chairman warned that Parliament would not be able to transact its business if the gender requirement was not adhered to. “There would be a constitutional crisis,” he said.

South Africa is among the countries with the highest numbers of women in Parliament, along with Rwanda, Sweden and Cuba. Forty-five per cent of South Africa’s MPs are women.

Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden are also known to have high representations of women in politics.

Women constitute 40 per cent of the MPs in Sweden; Finland (34); Norway (38); Denmark (34); and Iceland 25 per cent.

Experts say there are a number of different quota methods for ensuring that women are better represented in Parliament.

The quotas are either through constitution or national legislation and quotas through political parties.

In Uganda, a parliamentary seat from each of the 39 districts is reserved for women. Other women are elected to parliament on the non-gender specific reserved seats.

Clash with ideal process

At elections, the quota system touches the very foundation of the democratic process and may clash with the ideal that it is up to the voters to choose the representatives they want.

Critics of reserving seats for women have argued that this prevents an increase in women’s representation, that is above the quota level.

No constitutional clause or law demands a high representation of women in Scandinavia.

The high numbers are attributed to sustained pressure from women’s groups within parties as well as the women’s movement in general.

Kenya’s constitution also states that there will be 47 women in National Assembly, each elected from the counties.

The Senate shall also have 16 women members nominated by political parties and two representing the youth and persons with disabilities.

On Wednesday, Mr Hassan was confident that Parliament would pass electoral reform Bills before August 27.

He said voter education and registration would start after the establishment of new Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission.