The just-concluded elections threw up many surprises, some of which will continue to be debated for years to come.
A major outcome that was not anticipated in many quarters is the relatively large number of women elected to the various positions across the country.
For instance, the next parliament will have the first elected female member from the former North-Eastern Province and, for the first time, we are going to have several female governors across the country.
The proportion of women MPs will inch up towards the constitutional two-thirds threshold, and after several electoral cycles the discussion about gender balance in parliament will become stale.
At least this is my fervent hope.
Many have questioned the rationale of including more women in positions of leadership, and a number of explanations have been given for this.
In our context, the most persuasive argument is that after our contentious election 10 years ago that took us to the brink of a meltdown, one of the measures recommended to keep the political class focused on the future was the inclusion of more women in positions of responsibility.
This recommendation is not based on the stereotypical musings of a male chauvinist who thinks that replacing men with the so-called “weaker sex” would solve all our violence problems, but on centuries of empirical research.
Firstly, it is important to look at the epidemiology of violence and conflict from a public health perspective.
Violent conflict is common in societies that meet certain characteristics – poverty, poor social support, youth and male gender.
Let’s review each in its turn. Poverty (and inequality) is a potent driver of violence both among individuals and in societies.
Widespread poverty creates a class of citizens with little or no stake in the economy, and any trigger may lead to destruction of property without a care as to the economic consequences since the individual is far removed from economic realities.
Poor social support, manifested as large urban populations living in informal settlements without the benefit of the extended family in their immediate vicinity, results in a situation in which when a person makes violent decisions there is less inhibition to act out on them. In an extended family setting there is always that relative who has seen it all and has earned the respect of most family members, and no one has the heart to act in approximately in their presence.
In most societies, young people (usually between the ages of 15 and 25) are more likely to engage in violent behaviour, and they are also the most common victims of violence.
Traditionally in many of our communities, they formed the warrior class, and today many young people are still used for the same purpose during ethnopolitical conflicts.
Young people in general are also more likely to manifest the two factors discussed above (poverty and poor social support), thus compounding their risk of violent conflict.
The final factor that often tips the balance is male gender. From a purely epidemiological perspective, men are more violent than women when exposed to the same stimuli.
This finding is borne out by evidence obtained during violent confrontations in our cities, and culprits involved in violent crime.
Whatever the explanation, therefore, a group of men is more predisposed to violent decision-making than a comparable group of women.
Three of these factors can be addressed in a clearly straightforward manner – reducing poverty, providing opportunities in rural areas to reduce rural-urban migration, and keeping young people busy (with educational and sporting opportunities) will significantly reduce the risk of violence in any society.
Countries that have carried out these interventions are reaping the fruits of peace and social development.
But how do we handle the final factor – male gender? Research has shown that diluting male influence in key decision-making bodies improves the quality of decision-making and significantly reduces the risk of violence.
We can, therefore, be optimistic that the next parliament will be an improvement on the last, thanks to the newly-elected female members!
Atwoli is Associate Professor and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine [email protected]