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Why MPs want women to compete for elective positions

Saturday September 8 2012

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

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. Nation Media Group

By NJERI RUGENE [email protected] and GAKIHA WERU [email protected]

Women hoping to join Parliament will have to face elections if proposals made by MPs and political party leaders are approved by the House.

A two-day weekend meeting to discuss mechanisms to achieve gender parity in the General Election returned a unanimous decision that direct nomination of women to Parliament should be reduced as much as possible to encourage women to run for election and face competition.

Those who held this view, mainly male MPs, argued that the nomination process has been abused by political party leaders appointing their friends, associates and allies.

They argued that deserving women, especially those who work with communities, are left out in favour of friends of party leaders. (READ: Nomination of women to House opposed)

The conference, organised by the ministries of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs and Gender and sponsored by the United Nations, aimed at seeking consensus on the affirmative action ahead of the March 4, 2013 elections.

The politicians were seeking consensus ahead of debate by Parliament on a proposed Constitution amendment that intends to give effect to Articles 27 (8) and 81 (b) which require that not more than two-thirds of those elected to Parliament shall be of the same gender.

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The proposed changes on composition of the Legislature are designed to prevent a possible constitutional crisis after the next elections.

The Cabinet proposed the amendments, which have been pending in the House since last November, to give room to political leaders to nominate more women or men to fill the gaps to satisfy the Article 27 principle of gender balance.

The increase would be in the form of seats created specifically to fill anticipated gender gaps after elections and any shortfall would see an increase in House seats by the same margin.

This would mean that the number of MPs and Senators in the next Parliament could shoot up beyond the numbers provided for in the Constitution and would be determined after an election.

The Constitution provides for 290 elected MPs and 47 women picked from counties, adding up to 337. To meet the gender principle, the country must elect at least 117 women or men.

If the mark is not met, then the new arrangement captured in the amendment requires that political parties give names of the disadvantaged gender from a list to comply with the Constitution.

On Saturday, after a two-day gruelling session, the forum settled on two options that would be forwarded to Parliament for debate and approval to avoid consequences of ignoring the gender parity principle.

Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim and Cabinet ministers Naomi Shabaan and Eugene Wamalwa said MPs would scrutinise the proposals at an informal meeting known as Kamukunji chaired by the Speaker, possibly next week.

If the proposals are approved, at least an extra 47 women’s representatives will be picked from each county to Parliament to make a total of 94.

However, they will have to be subjected to an election, as opposed to direct nominations. The two separate options were given by Dr Shabaan, Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo and assistant minister Mwangi Kiunjuri.

Dr Shabaan has proposed that the extra 47 be picked to represent their counties, drawn from women who will have unsuccessfully contested parliamentary seats in their constituencies garnering the highest votes.

This, the minister argued, would encourage women to participate in elections for Parliament as opposed to focusing on county seats. However, she was categorical that the proposals would only be implemented after passage of the pending bill.

On their part, Mr Kilonzo and Mr Kiunjuri suggested that to fulfil the gender requirement, another election of 47 more special county seats for women be facilitated to make a total of 94 seats.

“The merit of these two proposals was mainly to reduce the number of women who are nominated by political parties by ensuring that as many of the affirmative action women lawmakers as possible shall be elected or shall have participated in elections at the constituency and county levels,” Dr Shabaan told the meeting held at Emerald Flamingo Resort.

Dr Shabaan who, with her counterparts Mr Wamalwa and Mr Dalmas Otieno led in rallying support for the bill, described the proposals by MPs Kilonzo and Kiunjuri as “innovative and fresh”.

Mr Otieno, the Public Works Service minister who chaired the Cabinet team that drafted the bill, pleaded with MPs to support the proposed gender parity, saying it was progressive and a mark of good governance to have an equal number of women at the top echelons of decision making.

Mr Micah Cheserem, chairman of the Commission on Revenue Allocation, pointed out the dangers of ignoring the gender parity provisions, saying it would be expensive. Mr Cheserem gave figures detailing the cost in the different scenarios.

The regional director of UN Women, Ms Christine Musisi, pleaded with Parliament to pass the amendments, saying the new Constitution grants women the opportunity and guarantee of effective representation through affirmative action with “express” provisions of gender parity.

“Such provisions give Kenya the opportunity to achieve its vision of a prosperous country with high quality of life for all and women are at the heart of Kenya’s development,” Ms Musisi told the politicians.

The Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill, 2011, also seeks to deal with the controversy that initially surrounded the elections date and to also clarify the date on which names and details of delimited boundaries come into effect.

However, Mr Wamalwa said on Saturday that he had secured Cabinet approval to “move forward” and deal with the gender parity issue prescribed independent of the election date provisions, arguing the court has since settled it.

“The importance of ensuring that the next elections produces a National Assembly and Senate that comply with the two-thirds gender rule cannot be over-emphasised.

"The gender parity principle of our new dispensation and proper composition of these two Houses may be challenged on this basis alone,” the minister said.