Women have a critical role to play in the development of a country. Their contribution is so crucial that one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals focuses on the importance of gender equality.
One of the most significant places gender parity must be achieved is in the political arena. This is so because holders of political offices often drive the economic, social and policy agenda of a country.
Although gender equality and women’s empowerment have advanced in recent decades, the political arena has one of the least female representations, with only 23 per cent of parliamentary seats worldwide held by women. This low average is brought about by countries with zero or very low women representation.
As at end of 2016, Rwanda had the highest percentage of women in parliament at 63.8 per cent followed by Bolivia at 53.1 per cent and Cuba at 48.9 per cent. Seychelles and Sweden take fourth and fifth positions respectively.
After Rwanda, other African countries with substantial women representation are Senegal (42.7 per cent), South Africa (42.0 per cent), Namibia (41.3 per cent), Mozambique (39.6 per cent), Ethiopia (38.8 per cent), Angola (36.8 per cent), Tanzania (36.6 per cent) and Burundi (36.4 per cent).
Uganda, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Cameroon and Sudan have between 30 and 35 per cent women representation. Kenya, though, has 19.7 per cent women representation.
With just over 50 per cent proportion of women in the population, Kenya must find a way of increasing women representation in parliament and other political positions.
This will open up women participation, not only in politics but also in other leadership positions. Having a woman county representative is not enough. It does not get many women interested in politics enough to achieve adequate representation. A more radical move is necessary.
How did countries with high women representation do it? Sweden has mainstreamed gender and made deliberate gender equality policies that inspire equal distribution of men and women in all spheres of life, ensuring everyone has equal opportunities in politics, national and organizational leadership as well as social and economic activities, and can live without fear of abuse and violence.
Uganda, Argentina, India, Bangladesh, Eritrea, and Tanzania have quotas of parliamentary seats reserved for women. Seychelles has achieved its high ranking in women representation through a sheer political commitment. Can Kenya emulate these countries?
POSITIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY
The genocide in Rwanda left the county with about 70 per cent female population, which forced more women to come out and take positions of responsibility both at the work place and in leadership of the country.
Rather than having a county women representative to Parliament, suppose the country introduced a rotational women-only constituency representation in each county.
This will still guarantee a minimum of 47 women parliamentarians, who will be having a more directed responsibility of representing a constituency, while at the same time lowering the wage bill by nearly Sh2 billion per annum. All the other constituencies will still allow interested women to contest.
The net effect is that each constituency will begin to brood women who are capable of winning a parliamentary seat.
By giving them the buffer protection against men in the initial attempt, this process will strengthen women to contest against men in the next round. Before long, Kenya will have very strong women parliamentarians and politicians, who can run for any office and do not have to bend backwards for nominations.
How the counties decide which constituency to start with and which will be next can be done in a simple ballot where constituency representatives pick a number. The constituency with number one will be the first to have only women contesting. This will be followed by number two until the last constituency is represented by a woman, and then number one comes up again.
For counties with more than five constituencies, at least two should be reserved for woman again on a rotational basis. These include Nairobi County with the highest number of constituencies numbering 11, which will take until 2072 for all the constituencies to be represented by women if only one constituency is reserved per election. Kiambu has nine, Meru and Kakamega have eight each while Machakos and Murang'a counties have seven constituencies each.
Tharaka- Nithi, which is a one-constituency county, will have a woman every other election while Isiolo, Laikipia, Samburu and Lamu will take only two elections to have both constituencies represented by a woman and the cycle restart in 2032.
Majority of the counties comprise three constituencies and will therefore restart in 2037 and after every three elections. This analysis assumes that the rotation will start with the 2022 election.
In the long run, these women will become seasoned and can contest and win senate and gubernatorial seats, and we will be on our way to achieving sustainable development.
Rose Ngara-Muraya, policy analyst at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA)