Kenya’s 2010 constitution established a groundbreaking gender quota, requiring “not more than two-thirds of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” Ten years later, after numerous attempts, the government still has not adopted legislation to fully implement this constitutional requirement. As a result, this September 21, the Chief Justice of Kenya advised President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve parliament. This decision, and the ensuing political fallout, highlights significant barriers that continue to impede the full and equal participation of women in all spheres of public life.
Despite some gains since 2010, neither the 2013 nor 2017 elections saw the progress necessary for women to gain the constitutionally-mandated 33 percent representation in elective office. As NDI and the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya)’s post-election gender analysis found, when planning to run for office, women aspirants faced multiple external challenges including reduced media coverage and insufficient funding relative to male candidates and aspirants. The party primaries in 2017 were a source of confusion, delay and undemocratic practices, which disproportionately affected the participation of women. In many instances, these practices led to women aspirants and candidates being left out, asked to vie for a designated “women representative” seat, or told to wait to be nominated through party lists. Additionally, despite a 30 percent public funding threshold for women and other marginalized groups, none of the parties that received state funding provided full and transparent public information on whether and how they complied. These deficiencies -- including non-compliance with respect to enacting legislation to enforce the two-thirds gender rule -- contributed to undermining the spirit and the letter of the 2010 constitution.
Today, Kenyan women still face a wide set of challenges as politicians, voters, candidates and election workers. These include absent or insufficient:
Equity in campaign financing;
Dispute resolution mechanisms for Violence Against Women in Elections (VAW-E);
Commitment and ability to attract, recruit, support and promote women members in political party leadership and elected positions; and
Existence of critical party documents and regulations that govern the conduct of party primaries and related party activities.
They also face persistent Violence Against Women in Politics (VAW-P) through physical assaults, threats and coercion (including sexual harassment, sexual extortion, and economic threats), both in person and online.
These barriers prevent the full participation and representation of women, as well as youth and persons with disabilities in political parties, parliament and other decision-making bodies.
In advance of the 2022 elections, there is an opportunity to enact meaningful change to affirm women’s participation and leadership in Kenyan electoral politics. While legislation implementing the two-thirds gender rule is a necessary first step, NDI’s 2017 recommendations from its pre-election assessment mission and International Election Observation Mission still hold, including:
The Government and People of Kenya must prioritize and enact the necessary legislation to enforce the gender rule as a matter of urgency.
Political Parties must take full measures to attract, recruit, support and promote women in party leadership and elected positions; and to support women among their ranks. Political parties should establish mechanisms to effectively enforce among their members the political party and electoral codes of conduct. They should focus on expanding and supporting the numbers of women and young people participating as candidate agents. This includes developing fair and transparent dispute resolution mechanisms, and taking proactive measures to better promote women in party decision-making and leadership. Parties must comply with the finance act in allocating to marginalized groups, including women candidates, 30 percent of the public financing they receive.
The Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) must ensure that all parties receiving state funding comply with the legal requirement that at least 30 percent of funds support programs for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.
All Key Stakeholders -- including political parties, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, civil society, media and the security sector -- must put in place urgent measures to remove obstacles that hinder the full participation of women, young people, the disabled and other marginalized groups in all aspects of the electoral process. These barriers manage to exclude the full representation of 50 percent of the population, and have a compounding effect on the exclusion of young people, the disabled community, religious and ethnic minorities and other marginalized communities within Kenya.
NDI will continue to support full gender equality in Kenyan politics. Currently, NDI is working with the ORPP and the Political Parties Liaison Committee to advance multi partisan action on political party primary reform, which seeks to address key structural barriers to the full participation of women and other marginalized groups.
The recent Supreme Court decision provides an important opportunity for all Kenyans to work collectively to affirm universal principles of equality and non-discrimination; and to fully implement constitutional obligations that require the meaningful participation and representation of women in parliament. Bracing the space open for women will contribute to changing the face of politics in Kenya.
NDI's work in Kenya is generously funded by the National Endowment for Democracy
Author: Dickson Omondi is NDI's regional director for Southern and East Africa.