31 January 2013

Kenya: Women Got a Raw Deal in Party Primaries


The number of women who made it to the party lists for normal competitive seats in the forthcoming elections remains diminutive raising a red-flag amongst many Kenyans.

Women aspirants were technically locked out by the Tenth Parliament when it failed to pass laws that would have operationalised section 81(2b) of the constitution that says: not more than two-thirds of the members of the elective bodies shall be of the same gender.

Other factors included lack of funds; attitudes and perceptions about the place of women leadership and blatant violence meted out on those who came out to contest against men in the party nominations.

Preliminary party lists on the IEBC websites indicate that less than 10 percent of all aspirants in the forthcoming polls are womenfolk; at least at the Presidential, Parliamentary and Gubernatorial seats.

Only one presidential aspirant; Martha Karua of Narc Kenya and less than 40 women countrywide were cleared to vie as Governors, Senators and Member of Parliament by their political parties.

This is a far departure from the letter and spirit of the constitution which says we should have a minimum of 155 less the 47 women representative seats reserved under the National Assembly.

Constitutionally, the total number of women who were supposed to be elected leave alone cleared to vie is 108 women.

Past elections in Kenya indicate that the number of women who are likely to win through the ballot will be extremely low.

In 2007, only sixteen got elected as MPs yet there were over 200 women on the ballot papers. The list of women cleared by IEBC to vie as MPs is less than 40.

Women bore the brunt of the violence during the primaries and it is not surprising that they performed dismally and instead chose to take refuge in the 47 seats reserved for women as County Representatives to the National Assembly.

Over 100 women will be battling it out against each other for a chance to clinch the 47 positions reserved for them in every county.

In Thika for instance, a female aspirant had to literally re-locate from her Nairobi home to a hotel in Thika for days. In Kisumu, another woman decried the electorate who she says are not interested in issues and policies but monetary gains and handouts.

'If you women don't have anything to give us, go sit in the house,' was a common statement in Kisumu whenever women aspirants tried to traverse the lakeside town seeking for support.

Many women aspirants also received threatening calls asking them to back off the race or face the wrath from their male counterparts.

Safe space for women and their supporters to monitor and report gender based violence during elections needs to be created to constantly highlight issues facing women candidates.

It is incumbent upon IEBC and the security agencies to ensure full compliance to electoral laws as well as the laws of the land including the Constitution.

With nominations behind and elections barely a month away, the verdict is out: the goal of increasing the number of women in political leadership will remain a mirage unless the principle of affirmative action is respected and implemented. Let us join hands to elect leaders who will prioritize implementation of the constitution in regard to gender provisions.

John Harrington Ndeta is the Media and Peace Coordinator, Peace Initiative Kenya, a project of the International Rescue Committee

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