Even without article 81(b) of the constitution, the measure of gender equity in every aspect of a nation’s makeup can never be emphasized enough as it is indicative of awareness and progress in including all segments of its people in decision making.
Enforcing the gender rule has come to be seen as the end goal rather than a means to an end, though. Simply nominating women into parliament, in my opinion, addresses a symptom, an indicator if you may, of an underlying issue within our society rather than going deeper to address and fix the root cause of gender imbalance at the echelon of Kenyan political leadership.
A look at KNBS data on Women Participation in Key Decision Making Positions in 2014 shows an interesting trend:
- Positions where constitutional commissions have the recruiting mandate, the gender rule is more or less achieved.
- In the make up of professionals like lawyers, gender equity is not such as issue as the proportion of women is upwards of 37%.
- The big issue arises in elective posts where there are, for example, no elected women governors at all. Going to the national assembly, just under 20% are women.
When the mandate of hiring is left to constitutional commissions, we end up with not just competent candidates from a technical point of view, but in the right proportions as envisaged the by law. But when left to the masses, you get popular candidates whose proportions, when looked at collectively, seldom meet legal requirements.
Nomination, whether all at once or in a stretched period of time as suggested, does not address the issues at the grassroots. In my line of work, when numbers look bad, it calls for a change of strategy, not a fixing of the numbers.
Some retrogressive cultural beliefs and practices have curtailed the ability of women to rise to key decision making positions within sections of the Kenyan society. The situation, though, is gradually improving. Among professionals, gender parity is better achieved and is continuously improving. Is it because employers were suddenly required to employ more women? I think not.
It is because more women access higher education and training.This inevitably increases the number of women qualified and available for employment. According to KNBS for example, women make up 70% of adult education enrolment indicating that more and more who could not access education initially now can and are embracing it.
This tidal change is due to increased awareness and a social transformation making the society as a whole more receptive to women’s abilities and competencies in the professional setting over time.
To have a similar effect in the elective positions, a similar long-term grassroots-based approach seems like a viable option.
Political parties are crucial for long-term political development in any democracy, Kenya included. That their role in promoting gender issues has not been interrogated is beyond me. We simply have to demand more from our parties. What have parties done in promoting gender parity in elective offices apart from the post-elections nominations as prescribed by law? Nada.
In the U.S., for example, initiatives like EMILY’s List from the Democratic Party campaign and raise funds for women candidates.
What if parties were required to observe the gender rule in awarding nominations to candidates for elections in the first place?
Instead of the chaotic party nomination processes through “universal suffrage” conducted on deadline day to portray democracy, party nomination organs could invite applications from interested candidates for MCAs, MPs, Senators and Governor positions. Candidates would then be shortlisted, interviewed and vetted upon which a party would decide on one candidate for every elective post.
Every party would be required to observe the gender rule rule at the following levels:
- Proportion of MCA candidates within a constituency
- Proportion of MP candidates within a county.
- Proportion of Governor candidates within a region.
- Proportion of Senator candidates within a region.
So parties would not just field women candidates in opponents strongholds but would be required to do so in their strongholds as well. Further, more women would be willing to be vetted by a professional panel at the nomination level, knowing that they have a chance of being nominated.
As an incentive to parties, a portion of the political parties fund could be allocated according to gender ratio of elected public officials within parties. For instance, a party with a sex ratio closer to 1:1 would get a larger portion compared with one with a larger ratio.
Granted, this would face a lot of resistance from the political homeguards but the office of the registrar of political parties would have to earn their pay by staying vigilant and enforcing this. And it probably would not achieve gender parity among elected officials in one election but over a period of time – just as it took some time for proportion of female lawyers to get to 37% of the total lawyers!