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Nairobi, KENYA - As Kenyans gear to vote in the referendum to accept or reject the new constitution, proponents and opposers of the new constitution are targeting the women telling them of the gains each side has for them in terms of women's participation in politics. Surprisingly, very few women politicians are hitting the campaign trail except as escorts of their male counterparts, rarely being heard orating on the podium but rather to be seen ornamentally decorating the male-dominated rallies. This is scary and may be translated by misogynist critics to mean that it reflects the lacklustre performance of women in the august house as well as national politics. We need therefore, as the talk on the new constitution heats up, to also analyse the participation of women in Kenyan politics and what hinders them from fronting their agenda despite an increase in numbers in this parliament as well as talks of a guaranteed increase in participation under the proposed new constitution.
Since 1969 when Kenya had its first woman parliamentarian, the Ninth Parliament has the highest ever achieved level of representation by women in Kenyan history; with 18 women out of the 222 members in parliament. This however, falls drastically short of the United Nations target of achieving 30% representations of women in politics by 2005. Highlights of the African Regional Congress of Women in Politics - 1995 concluded that such statistics, in Kenya as well as in Africa, are indicat ive of the "limited decision making roles given to women in this region, as well as the need to support girls' education and women's more active participation in politics." It is therefore of paramount importance to analyze the political scene for gender imbalances, identify the problems that hinder women's active participation in politics, and offer recommendations to help alleviate the dismembering of women from the National Assembly and their marginalisation from decision making roles once they enter into parliament. Only when women fight hard against these problems are they going to ascend to power and be able to articulate their grievances, there is no shortcut to it.
Socorro Reyes, in her Seeking Gender Balance: Women Strategies for Change, offers two strategic objectives for women in power and decision-making: Ensuring women's "equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision making, and increasing women's capacity to participate in decision making and leadership."
Going by the statistics of the 2002-2003 parliamentary year, Women parliamentarians have found it hard to fulfil the above objectives. Of the 17% of MPs who brought motions to the house, 18% were males as compared to 5.6% women.
In terms of contribution to motions in parliament of the 90.8% MPs who contributed, 94.4% of women MPs contributed to motions as compared to 90.5% of males. This shows that the level of the women's contribution surpassed that of their male counterparts.
In terms of points of order's raised by MPs, female MPs were almost on the same level with their male counterparts with 61.7% and 69.7% respectively.
Despite their critically limited number in parliament, women parliamentarians have matched their male counterparts in activities in the house. It therefore calls one to wonder why, if the ability is the same, few females make it to august house.
Major problems that need expounding include the attitudinal, cultural and structural impediments that ostracize women especially in their quest for upward political mobility. These emanate out of our cultural backgrounds, which are patriarchal in nature and hence encompass numerous gender stereotypes. These would also explain why, despite the electorate in Kenya being more female than male, women do not elect their own to parliament to reflect the dominance.
Economic disparities, which favour men, are also inhibiting factors. The imbalance between the extensive work women do and the limited rewards means poverty for them thus they can't influence the masses for political clout. UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] reports, for example, indicate that women do 80% of agricultural work yet access only 5% of credit in loans. Political campaigns are really very expensive, and only the rich are able to afford them. How then can women get into parliament if they do not have the money to oil their campaign machinery?
The non-democratization of political parties and lack of practical policies to address gender issues inhibits women's upward mobility in political parties, which sponsor candidates. The structure and agenda of Kenyan political parties need to be scrutinized for chances of improvement.
Legal hurdles also exist. The constitution and its reviewing process poses challenges for women seeking political office. The existing electoral laws also offer official and non-official detriments to women aspirants both formally and informally. Section 82(4) of the constitution of Kenya discriminates against woman in matters of adoption, marriage, divorce and inheritance of property at the time of death of a husband, economically crippling women.
Informally, minimal reforms have ensured that half of all nominations by political parties be given to women, but there is no political will to implement them as seen in the nominations of MPs in the last general election. The law may be there, but there is no clause to ensure implementation or penalties for failure to do so.
Women's access to technology and media also influences their political profile. The other problem is the non-identified roles and responsibilities for women in politics, and also their domestication which creates conflicts of balancing the private and the public. So much has politics interfered with the private lives of women who choose to go into it that parliament has been referred to as the graveyard of marriages.
Faced with all of these obstacles, it seems impossible for women to surmount their problems as concerns their political agenda. However, examples from Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa and Sweden -- among many others -- show that there are strategies to cope and overcome gender-based incapacitation from politics.
Hon. Charity Ngilu says, "For women to succeed in political office, they must articulate, challenge and seek to influence the social, political and economic environment for the benefit of the people." To achieve this, they need to undertake coalition building; governance capacity building; economic empowerment of women, networking and development; cultural re-orientation and pushing political parties to formulate, implement and evaluate new policies on women's role in politics as well as allocating quotas to women's representation. Above all, the engendering of men in the society who support women's participation is an agenda that female politicians should work hard at.
It makes no sense for women politicians to seek office on the premise of being different and once they get there they behave as though that as if to succeed you have to do what the males do. When their male counterparts roam the country during the weekends abusing each other it shames us to see women politicians adopting the same combative but unproductive stance and also starting to abuse others instead of working hard and shaming the men by setting examples in the process. In a society in dire need for role models to mentor the young girls, they need to show that you do not have to do what the men do if you are to be considered a total woman in politics.
This, therefore, means that women have to work extra hard as compared to their male counterparts if they are to achieve adequate representation in Kenya's power structure. At the moment many, including women themselves, have been heard to comment that affirmative action seems to have made their compatriots complacent once they get into power. Apart from the very few who are active, female nominated MPs are perceived not to be aggressively legislating as expected and hence lack the platform to act as role models to young marginalised women that they too can impact in the power struggles of this patriarchal country.
The changing political climate favours women in Kenya's future, but though increased democratization has opened space and opportunities for them, their positions in important decision-making levels in parliament is limited. It is thus important for one to analyze woman's active participation in the National Assembly vis-a-vis their potential capacity and identify the hurdles in this race for Bunge. This is the surest way to ensure "women's equal access to, and full participation in, power structures and decision making."
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