This landmark bill comes to the house when parliament is set to celebrate 100 years since it was established in 1807. The over 52 per cent of the Kenyan population who are women will be looking at the 9th Parliament with anticipation hoping that it will raise above age old limitations of culture and chauvinism to make a difference for women’s engagement in public leadership and politics.
The proposal for the 50 seats in through a Constitutional Amendment is seen by many women as a step towards
correcting the imbalance of women’s representation that has existed since Kenya got its Independence forty two years ago, and 100 years since Parliament was constituted as an institution.
If the National Assembly is to live up its mandate of spearheading advancement of the Kenyan society without bias, then the proposal for the 50 seats should be a starting point towards responsive distribution and sustenance of the inherent opportunities for women.
Equal participation of women in all decision-making processes is a fundamental for human development; it is about people expanding their choices to live full, creating lives in freedom and dignity. It is about building human capacities as articulated in the Millennium Development Goals as benchmarks for progress towards a vision of development, peace and human rights. If Kenya adopts the proposal for the 50 seats, this move will very much be in line with vision 2030 which calls for the participation of all genders.
This therefore means that time has come for MPs to balance rhetoric with policies that can champion development.
Retracing the Affirmative Action debate in Parliament, one man stands out in his contribution on the floor of the House when Phoebe Asiyo tabled it in 1997. Hon. Mukhisa Kituyi when contributing to the motion said, “I have listened to Hon. Member of Parliament totally distorting the meaning of words “affirmative action.”
If affirmative action is about helping minority voices for example in the USA, affirmative action would be focused on Jews. There are less Jews than African Americans in the USA. Affirmative action is not about helping minorities, but about strengthening the hand of the disadvantaged, where the disadvantaged are the majority. Like in the commercial sphere at independence, affirmative action is to remove hurdles in the path of the majority.
It is in this light that for the past two weeks women in Kenya have set up a campaign in support of a Cabinet bill No. 32. Recalling that previous attempts to pass affirmative action in Parliament have borne no fruits, we believe it is important to support this bill in order to secure a legislative framework that guarantees women’s quota in Parliament. While we are aware that it will not lead us to the agreed national quota of at least 30%, this means that we are still far short of the African Union recommendation of 50% representation for women.
This Sunday, more than 2000 women from the 210 Constituency are descending on Nairobi to witness how their Members of Parliament will vote for the Bill with a hope that each MP, will help try and demystify the myths that Affirmative Action is wrong and should not be applied in political representation.
Women are looking up to President Kibaki, who they say should be in Parliament to vote for the Bill. This will surely place his name in the treasured annals of our country’s history.
It is written that during his time as South Africa’s head of state, Mandela, fondly referred to as Madiba’s greatest legacy is not his power, but his understanding and sharing of power, not only among people of different races, but also among women and men.
Colleen Lowe- Morna, a South African gender crusader says; Mandela’s personal journey in understanding equality of the sexes, from the days when he would say things like “no man worth his salt” should accept certain terms of the constitutional negotiations, to becoming the husband of a woman who does not bear- nor want to bear - his surname.
She further states; “This little - commented upon journey is one of the more amazing stories of Mandela’s life. Like all our leaders, of every race and ethnic hue, he came from deeply patriarchal roots. Not being able to provide for his family during 27 years of incarceration must have weighed heavily on Mandela’s sense of “manhood”. While gender equality gradually started to hit the radar screen in the world outside, one wonders how much of that discussion ever seeped behind the iron bars of Robben Island.
Yet Mandela’s legacy is not just the space he has created for South African women to participate in public life and as citizens. It is his understanding of leadership.
Elsewhere in Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique the story is the same.
As the 9th Parliament brings its term to an end, the women of Kenya are counting on the individual members to leave a legacy that will surpass the usual sectarian divisions of party, tribe, gender and regions and make Kenya proud.