MPs: Kenya must pass gender Bill or risk constitutional crisis

A general view is seen of a special Parliamentary session in Nairobi. Photo/REUTERS
FILE PHOTO | A general view of a special Parliamentary session in Nairobi. Photo/REUTERS

Kenyan politicians must pass a gender Bill that would ensure women one-third of seats in parliament – or risk plunging the country into a constitutional crisis, MPs supporting the move have warned.

Despite the 2010 constitution stating that no more than two-thirds of any elected or appointed body can be of the same gender, women hold 22 percent of seats in the country’s lower house of parliament, and 31 percent in the upper house.

Court rulings since 2012 have directed parliament to pass legislation to enforce the gender Bill or risk being dissolved – but previous attempts have failed with female MPs accusing male lawmakers of deliberately blocking efforts.

If parliament is dissolved, a general election would need to be called. Kenya held a controversial, highly polarised and violent election last year.

Amid increased scrutiny from the courts, Kenya’s lower house is expected to vote on a bill on Wednesday.

“The truth is we, as parliament, are unconstitutional,” said Rozaah Buyu, Kisumu Woman Rep said.

“What authority do we have to bring others to account when we are not acting within the constitution by disregarding the gender rule?”

The high court in 2017 stated the chief justice can be petitioned to advise the president to dissolve parliament if a law was not enacted, said Buyu, who is also the VP of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association.


Kenya’s economy has grown on average by 5 percent annually over the last decade, but the benefits have not been equally shared.

Women and girls remain disadvantaged socially, economically and politically.

Women make up only a third of the 2.5 million people employed in the formal sector, says the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

And while women provide 80 percent of farm labour, they own 1 percent of agricultural land.

The percentage of women in Kenya’s parliament is lower than its east African neighbours such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burundi and Rwanda, according to Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Gender experts say women in politics around the world face a barrage of challenges – from physical and sexual violence to a lack of money to fund their campaigns.

Quotas, they say, help create a more level playing field and ensure their voice is represented.

The bill, which was introduced in parliament last week, provides for special seats to be created if elections fail to achieve required numbers, with candidates from the under-represented gender nominated to fill them.

Backed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, many MPs have voiced support for the bill.

They cited recent moves in Ethiopia where half the cabinet, the election chief, head of the supreme court and the president are women.

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