4 January 2013

Kenya: How to Increase Female Participation in Elections

Although the Supreme Court ruled that the one-third minimum gender requirement can only be achieved progressively, all is not lost since voters can decide the fate of women by electing more of those who will offer their candidature in the forthcoming elections.

Failure by Parliament to enact laws that would have ensured that the gender rule is implemented in the coming elections is a clear testimony that women's empowerment has not yet been embraced in our patriarchal society.

Drafters of the new constitution deliberately decided to address issue of gender inequality and inserted Article 81 (b) which states that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.

Parliament was required in Article 27(8) of the constitution, to put in place legislation and policies on gender equity and affirmative action.

As we wait for the legislation and policies required to achieve the gender rule, Kenyans have an opportunity in the coming elections to vote for women to reduce the growing gender gap in our country.

For many years, women in Kenya have been struggling to make their voices heard, to be part of decision-making and to have their problems tackled appropriately.

Despite the size of their population, which is slightly larger than that of men, they only occupy about 10 per cent of parliamentary seats. This is quite discouraging if we compare with our neighbours, especially Rwanda where women occupy 56 per cent of parliamentary seats.

In Kenya, women who offer themselves for positions in elections always have to face insurmountable predicaments. As a country, we must take the necessary steps to ensure effective participation of women in the forthcoming elections.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission should work together with the civil society organisations to reach out to women and encourage them to participate in the coming elections.

Also, we must make elections safer for women. IEBC and the Kenyan Police must put in place the required measures to combat violence against women who are contesting in the elections.

Unless, adequate security is provided, many women will find it difficult to face some of their male counterparts who use violence to scare opponents.

No doubt, the incomprehensible horror and violence meted on female contestants discourage women who would like to offer themselves for elective positions.

To avoid such situation, we must take firm action against those who use violence against women particularly in the elections.

Most important, political parties must encourage more women to run on their respective party tickets. Parties must not be seen to be mens' club with women left to play the role of cheerleaders and followers.

More over, political parties must outline how they plan to tackle some of the problems that affect the women constituency. Parties must make know their agenda about sexual and reproductive health, jobs, pay equity, representation, girls' education and HIV and Aids that continue to take toll on women.

Ultimately, women aspirants must provide clear vision and agenda about how they plan to solve many problems that we face in our country.

Raphael Obonyo is the external advisor to UN-Habitat's Youth Advisory Board. 

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