MISTER Speaker


by Cynthia Vukets on September 21, 2009

Another story on women’s issues that (surprise) didn’t make it into the Nation. Well, to be fair, the first three sentences did. I wonder how Kenya will improve its dismal record of women in Parliament if the issue is never publicized . . .

Lack of funding and patriarchal social attitudes are to blame for the dismal record of women’s political participation in Kenya, according to women’s advocates and female MPs.

The country is far behind its East African neighbours in terms of women’s representation in Parliament.

Currently, women make up only 10 per cent of Kenya’s MPs, compared to more than 30 per cent in Uganda and Tanzania. In tiny island nation Seychelles, 25 per cent of parliamentarians are female.

“It’s not that women in Kenya don’t go forth to be elected but it’s the issue of political backing,” said Dr Regina Karega, the National Commission on Gender and Development head. “Government funding to gender equality and gender issues is quite limited.”

At a conference in Nairobi yesterday, women parliamentarians from four East African countries gathered to find a way to increase political participation of women in the region.

Dr Karega explained party politics make it very difficult for Kenyan women to make inroads, blaming the media and male politicians for contributing to an “old boys’ club” mindset. She added the Ministry of Gender is one of the lowest-funded in the government.

In both Tanzania and Uganda, affirmative action built into the Constitution has ensured a certain number of female parliamentarians and party officials.
According to Tanzanian MP Anna Abdallah, even if legislative protection exists, women must fight to make sure it is implemented.

The 35-year parliamentary veteran said each of Tanzania’s 99 female parliamentarians has to show action in her constituency to prove her leadership capability.

Marakwet East MP and chair of the women’s caucus, Jebi Kilimo said it is currently next to impossible to pass bills related to gender equality or women’s rights because so few MPs are women. All 22 female representatives are forced to lobby their male counterparts to get anything through, she added.

“Being a patriarchal society, sometimes getting around these party leaders to have real change is a challenge,” said Ms Kilimo.

Some pending legislation includes the Marriage Bill, the Family Protection Bill and the Matrimonial Properties Bill. All address women’s rights within the household.

Ugandan MP Alisemera Babiiha, also head of the country’s women’s caucus, explained women’s rights must be legislated beyond political representation.

Her country recently established universal secondary education and a system of affirmative action at universities.
Girls who apply to post-secondary education are automatically given an extra 1.5 points, allowing them easier access to institutions. Ms Babiiha said last year nearly equal numbers of men and women graduated from university in Uganda. When asked if the move angered Ugandan men, she replied: “they find it positive.”

At the political level, the Ugandan constitution declares all political representation — from the village to the national level — must be one-third women.

Ms Kilimo called for similar quotas and affirmative action to be played out in Kenya.

“I know if we bring this issue of gender in the Constitution it will be a struggle but we are ready to fight,” said Dr Karega. She added support would also have to go to other sectors such as education, battling gender-based violence and eliminating female genital mutilation before women can begin participating equally in politics.

When former deputy Speaker of the House David Musila read the keynote address, he joked that the 22 current female MPs make so much noise the male MPs are scared to have increased female representation in the house. The Kenyan women MPs laughed along with him but this reporter noted the Ugandan and Tanzanian ladies shaking their heads.