OPINION: Political reforms should champion for more women in power


OPINION: Political reforms should champion for more women in power
File image of the National Assembly during a past session. PHOTO| COURTESY

By Michael Cherambos

Statistically, Africa is not doing badly in terms of female representation in politics.

According to UN Women data as of February 2019, with 23.9 per cent of all elected parliamentarians being female, Africa trails behind Europe and the US but exceeded the proportion of women representatives in Arab states, Asia and the Pacific.

In only three countries in the world is more than half of the parliament made up of women: Bolivia, Cuba, and Rwanda – right at our doorstep.

According to research published in 2018 by the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya), the 2017 elections saw valuable gains in terms of the election of women. 29 per cent more women ran for seats than in the previous election, which led to the most elected females in all of our history.

Of the 1,883 elected seats in Kenya, women hold 172 in comparison to 145 in 2013.

One would think that due to laws mandating women representatives in all of the counties, we would be in good shape. But the reality is different. Women still face significant obstacles.

Female politicians have cited harassment, questioning of their sexual morality and discriminatory gender-based language as major hurdles to overcome. Women are less likely to run if sexist nonsense like their morality is questioned, their children and spouses are mocked, or if their business associates are boycotted due to gender discrimination.

The public attention is intrusive and discourages women from running at all. As a nation, the onus falls upon all of us to change this unfortunate trend.

There are many avenues to express our opinions and change the future of the country, but it takes being proactive. For example, we can be political activists. We can attend protests and set up forums with other community members. We can write and we can advocate.

But this past year, the activism came to us. We were given the opportunity to express our opinions to the Building Bridges Initiative taskforce, who came to interview mwananchi across the country. As we await the results, I truly hope that women in politics was one of our top concerns.

If it wasn’t already, it’s about time we think about it now.

The constitution requires that one-third of elected bodies are made up of women. But at just 23 per cent, the National Assembly and Senate fall short by ten-percent. And this includes the seats that are allocated exclusively to females.

Therein lies one of the problems. More often than not, seats allocated to women exclusively are occupied by friends, relatives and girlfriends of powerful men. Instead of being elected due to the quality of their leadership, they are frequently put into positions of power through connections.

This is not to say that many elected female leaders in Kenya are not of the highest caliber. Rather, the problem does exist that for many, it has become a popularity contest.

What do I mean by this? We see so-called social media slay queens ascending to power without having the background, skills or knowledge to be politicians. This occurs as a result of the political norm here for elected representatives — both male and female — to earn their positions due to financial clout and popularity.

The Kenyan political landscape right now is plagued by a hustler culture whereby well-connected individuals get elected, rather than ones who are qualified but not sufficiently networked.

Likewise, the current affirmative action woman representative situation gives sexist voters and party cadres an excuse to ignore women for other senior positions. They know that there is a reserved seat for women, and thus split their vote, voting exclusively for male candidates in their other votes.

The end result is an overall lack of representation in our nation’s politics. Political parties in Kenya are themselves notoriously like a bus that you ride to the destination and get off. There is no continuity.

They lack distinct identities and core sets of ideological principles because they are comprised of individuals that vie for power and recognition, not social and political improvement. This lack of accountability spills over to the issue of female representation, since candidates are elevated due to connections and money and not fundamental party ideas.

That is why the time has arrived for real political reform. If the mwananchi are indifferent, or worse, hopeless, then we cannot expect the government to make the changes that we desire. We need to make our voices heard, but we also need the government to listen.

President Kenyatta has shown us that he will listen. It is our time to speak up.

Mr Cherambos comments on topical socio-political issues. Michaelcherambos1@gmail.com

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