Kenya MPs set to rule on bill to raise women representation

Tuesday November 20 2018

All eyes will be on the National Assembly today as the Second Reading of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2018 is set to take place.

Given that it is a constitutional matter, the bill needs a nod from two-thirds of the House to sail through to the next stage.

Top politicians have voiced support for the bill that is sponsored by Majority Leader Aden Duale.

Deputy President William Ruto said last week that MPs should back it for the sake of their mothers, wives and daughters.

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday said passage of the bill will help the country banish discrimination against women, while former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said approval of the proposed law will help marginalised voices participate in national politics.

Here is what you need to know about the bill.

  • What is the 2/3 gender rule?

Drafters of the 2010 Constitution did not want a situation where one gender is overly represented in Parliament.

As such, they stipulated that the National Assembly and the Senate should not have more than two-thirds of their members of the same gender.

“Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender,” says Article 81 (b) of the Constitution.

  • Why has the section not been adhered to, eight years later?

Because the Constitution did not dictate on how the two-thirds gender rule can be implemented, the attorney-general’s office sought an advisory from the Supreme Court on how to meet the requirement.

In December 2012, the apex court determined that gender principle had not been transformed into a full right capable of direct enforcement, advising that there be progressive implementation within five years of the promulgation of the Constitution.

“We are of the majority opinion that legislative measures for giving effect to the one-third-to-two-thirds gender principle, under Article 81(b) of the Constitution and in relation to the National Assembly and Senate, should be taken by August 27, 2015,” said a Bench of five Supreme Court judges.

However, by August 2015, still there was no law passed on the case, and it made the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness, Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust to sue the two Houses of Parliament for the delay.

The Kenya National Human Rights Commission was also part of the case.

In a verdict issued in March 2017, High Court judge John Mativo said that if the gender principle had not been implemented by June that year, anyone could write to the Chief Justice to advise the president to dissolve Parliament.


Justice Mativo’s order echoed another issued by in 2015 by High Court Judge Mumbi Ngugi, who ordered the attorney-general and the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution to prepare and table the law for legislation.

As the court processes went on, several attempts to have a law failed in Parliament, mostly due to quorum hitches.

In February 2017, a bill at the Senate sponsored by the then nominated senator Judith Sijeny failed because the House could not get 45 members vote for it.

In November 2016, there was a similar quorum hitch at the National Assembly that derailed a bill by the then chairman of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee Samuel Chepkonga.

It sought to have a progressive implementation formula of the gender principle and women MPs protested against it.

In May 2016, another bid failed at the floor of the National Assembly. It was supported by 178 MPs and opposed by 16.

  • What is contained in Mr Duale’s bill?

At the core of the bill is a nomination criterion to ensure that at any given time, the number of women is at least a third of the total.

Because it is hard to legislate on elective positions, the bill proposes that after an election has been finalised and the gender numbers calculated, the right number of women be nominated.

Numbers for the nomination will be shared by political parties depending on their strength in Parliament.

Currently, the National Assembly has 75 women MPs — 22 elected from the 290 constituencies in the last election, six nominated in the 12 nomination slots while 47 were elected as woman reps.

The Senate has three elected women from the 47 counties, while 18 are nominated.

The passage of Mr Duale’s bill could see the country pay about Sh60 million more in monthly salaries and other allowances to the nominated women MPs.

  • How does Kenya compare with other countries?

In terms of representation in Parliament, Rwanda leads in the Eastern Africa region with 61 per cent of MPs being women, according to World Bank data.

Tanzania’s women parliamentarians amount to 36 per cent of the total.

Burundi has a similar percentage.

Uganda follows with 34 per cent while Kenya is trailing at 22 per cent.

Mr Odinga said on Monday that although Kenya is a dominant political and economic power in the region, it remains the only country yet to establish affirmative action for gender representation in Parliament.