opinionBy John Harring
The latest gender gap index report ranked Kenya women poorly compared to their counterparts in East Africa. Kenya ranked 72, behind Tanzania (46), Uganda (28) and Burundi (24) in a study of 135 countries globally.
The World Economic Empowerment annual Global Gender Gap report released last week in Geneva; Switzerland indicates that Kenyan women fair badly on political empowerment.
Despite increased prominence of women's issues in the public limelight, progress towards gender equality is still painfully slow in Kenya.
This is the case when it comes to elections where the populace has to make a choice of who should lead or represent them. Gender biases and myopic cultural beliefs have conspired to muscle women out off political leadership.
The concept of gender equality stretches far back in history when in1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in 1979 the UN Convention voted to abolish all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
In 2010, Kenyans too voted for a new constitution and in it.Chapters 6 and 7 are perhaps the most important chapters to consider when talking about equal representation.
Chapter 6 of the Kenya constitution provides detailed information on how people shall be represented in government processes and systems.
It outlines the general principles for the electoral system including the freedom of citizens to exercise political rights and ; equity of men and women where 'not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender among others.
Electoral systems must thus be seen to be free and fair; upholding the rule of law and fostering gender parity. Electioneering process should be free from violence unlike what was witnessed in Kenya in 2007 where more than 1000 people died and 500, 000 others were displaced due to electoral violence.
Culturally, women in Kenya constitute a subordinate, disadvantaged and hushed group who are routinely treated as inferior and who face sexual harassment, harmful cultural practices, stigma and discrimination.
Indeed many of the problems that confront women political aspirants have to do with cultural perceptions about the role of women in society.
When women declare their political candidature, it amounts to a self inflicting venture where physical violence and verbal abuse become part and parcel of their daily encounters. Women politicians have in the past been subjected to electoral violence and all manner of malpractices and abuse.
A close scrutiny of the plight of women politicians' challenges point to cultural socialization of Kenyans which does not encourage women to participate in politics.
This trend seems to be changing with constitutional provisions but a lot has to be done if at least a third of those to be elected are to be from either gender.
Most ethnic communities have over the years, inculcated in their offspring the assumption that leadership rightfully belongs to men. In patriarchal societies, men, traditionally, are the elders and leaders and thus; make wide-ranging decisions that affect their families and the community at large.
When male politicians are given Cabinet positions, their communities often elevate them to the status of elders and accord them the right to use symbols of leadership and eldership such as walking sticks, knobkerries, beaded or feathered headdresses and traditional attire. This elevation to eldership and leadership status in their communities rarely happens to women.
Under the new constitutional dispensation, the women of Kenya have a chance of getting into decision-making organs such as Parliament to add more weight to gender equality.
Equality of gender in leadership is crucial because fairness and the perception of it between different sexes is crucial in reducing gender based violence.
More and more women need to come out not just to contest but to support their womenfolk contesting for various elective posts at the County and national level in March 2013.
It is my assertion that when applied appropriately, democracy provides for the over 40 million men and women and the more than 42 ethnic groups in Kenya to get a chance; not just to participate in politics equally but to have a fair share of the national cake. This will in turn go a long way in reducing the potential for most forms of violence in modern day Kenya.
The Writer is the Media and Peace Coordinator; PIK