From not a single woman in Kenya’s first Parliament in 1963 to a record 69 in the 11th bicameral House of 2013, giant steps have been taken towards realising gender equity in the country’s governance structures
Without doubt, the 2010 Constitution was pivotal in bringing Kenyan women to where they now are. Article 27(8) of the supreme law requires the State to take legislative and other measures “to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” And yet it was not an isolated milestone.
Different events, personalities, and institutions have played their unique roles towards the realisation of the 2010 Constitution, which encapsulates the lofty ideals of gender equity.
The Kenya Women
The creation in 2001 of a women’s parliamentary group that later became the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa) set a new chapter in boosting women’s numerical strength in the House. The nine women of the Eighth Parliament were a mere 4.2 per cent of the unicameral House and the party-blind team of five elected and four nominated MPs operated on the ethos that the more they were, the more they would increase their contribution and influence on House business and ensure increased attention to the women’s agenda. To them, the “extremely low” number of women MPs since 1963 meant that issues of critical concern to women and girls were often sidelined in the legislative and political process.
It is instructive that from the nine women in the Eighth Parliament (1997-2002) who mooted Kewopa, their number doubled in the Ninth Parliament (2002-2007), from 4.2 per cent to 8.5 per cent. Hence, the Ninth Parliament had the largest number ever of women since independence, making Kewopa a change-maker in the quest for gender parity in Kenya. The 11th Parliament, consisting of 24 per cent women, has tripled the proportion of the Ninth Parliament.
Kewopa’s creation was informed by the fact that no woman had ever chaired a parliamentary committee and there were no women in the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC). The situation is no longer the same, with women chairing three of the 10 National Assembly committees, namely, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, and Education, Research and Technology and the nine-member PSC consisting of three women — the minimum allowed by the Constitution.
Cognisant of the fact that the national budget — the main tool for mobilisation and allocation of public resources — was insensitive to women’s needs and their roles in the productive economy, Kewopa has striven to address this and other inequities that hamper women’s access, participation, and achievement in Parliament and other political institutions and processes.
In just 12 years since it was formed, Kewopa has put its stamp on the affairs of Parliament by increasing women’s numerical strength in the House and its committees, but it has also gender-mainstreamed the 2008 and 2012 Standing Orders and contributed to the drafting and enactment of the prohibition of the female genital mutilation law. Kewopa also takes pride in spearheading the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act 2010, which has great bearing on young women, the Ratification of International Treaties Bill 2011, under which key instruments like the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), and the Social Assistance Bill 2012, which is of great significance to older women who bear the brunt of the care of orphans and vulnerable children. Notwithstanding the gains of the 2010 Constitution, Kewopa has been continuously mentoring potential members. This could explain the higher-than-average number of women in the 11th Parliament.