Can the women of Kenya use their numerical strength to redefine Political Parties?
Recently scores of Kenya women gathered at the Bomas of Kenya to not only launch the Kenya Women’s National Charter, but to also welcome the new dawn in political leadership considering the country is already in an election mood.
This is a defining year for the Kenyan woman both at political and decision-making level and also through the implementation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 where they hope to realise their rights.
While Political Parties are supposed to have women within their rank and file as per the dictates of the new Constitution, what was significant at the conference is the fact that they were not represented.
It is paramount that Political Parties tell women how they plan to work with them. Since none of them attended the conference, it was a clear indication that parties are yet to make a clear link between the women’s vote and the need for unequivocal policies and practices aimed at achieving gender equality.
This is not withstanding that women are majority of the supporters of most political parties in Kenya. The launch of the National Charter should, therefore, be a wake-up call for majority of women who aspire to make their presence felt within the political parties.
Even though women have adopted a wait and see attitude with the political parties since the Political Parties Act came to force in Kenya, the women need to start articulating their needs collectively. Political Parties chiefs also need to start feeling the collective political muscle that women have.
“The challenge many women are facing is the male dominated party hierarchies and women voters and party members need to reshape the agenda,” says Deborah Okumu, Executive Director of Caucus for Women Leadership.
Even though women are enthusiastic about the opportunities they have thanks to the Constitution of Kenya 2010 (COK 210) it was evident at the Bomas conference that majority are sceptical on how the Political Parties Act will ensure that Kenya does not go into a constitutional crisis due to non-compliant of Article 81(b) of the new law.
Parties with a majority are currently involved in country-wide recruitment and membership drive but not even one single party has come out to state clearly their gender agenda and how they will achieve the one-third affirmative action principle within party and national politics to enhance women’s participation in political arena.
Commenting on the role of Political Parties in enhancing women’s political participation, Lucy Ndung’u, Registrar of Political Parties, noted that the Constitution has brought a new spirit in the way Kenya should be governed as it reiterates how people are sovereign.
“Political parties are bound by Article 10 which speaks on National Values and Principles of Governance since they are also institutions of governance,” explains Ndung’u.
She is categorical that it is up to political parties to mobilise members and carry-out advocacy and mainstream gender within their policy to ensure that women are elected so that the country can realise the not more than two thirds gender principle.
“It is only the political parties’ that can ensure this principle so that Kenya does not go into a constitutional crisis,” observed Ndung’u.
In the past violence has been a barrier to women’s participation in politics. According to Njeri Kababeri of the Centre of Multi- Party Democracy, Political Parties Act spells out severe punishment on a political party, candidate or member who will go against this clause.
“Currently the law protects women and, therefore, women need to join political parties to ensure that they are part of the governance structure,” reiterated Kabeberi.
Under Article 30 within the Political Parties Act, women are guaranteed their political rights. Other salient features are in Article 91 which sets out characteristics of political parties which are; Political Parties must uphold national unity, and according to Ndung’u they should also promote gender equality and equity.
“If they don’t, they will be diluting the Constitution.”
The Code of Conduct which shall govern the Political Parties in Kenya sets out activities which the parties must adhere to and one of them is the rights of women which is articulated within the Electoral code of conduct.
If the regulation, both as stipulated with the Constitution and Political Parties Act is followed correctly, it will ensure that any political party which has not met the gender principle will be de-registered.
The code of conduct also requires that each political party develops a constitution and has policies in place which will ensure that they know how the money is spent.
However, addressing women at the National Women Leaders Platform for action conference, Kabeberi advised women to make sure that they are registered in political parties that were vibrant.
“Do not go to a dying party unless you are politically strong,” said Kabeberi. She urged: “it would be good to join a party that is strong in your region as then your chances of being elected remain high.”
She indicated that women are the ones who will make the one third affirmative action threshold within parties but only if they get registered as members. Observed Kabeberi: “A party cannot be registered if it does not have the not more than two thirds gender rule. This, therefore, gives women a greater chance to participate in parties.”
She also advised women to avoid going as independent candidates if they intend to contest. Her sentiments were echoed by Rina Liech from the office of the Registrar of Political parties.
Liech reiterated the need for aspiring women politicians to familiarise themselves with the Political parties Act, the Elections Act and the Constitution.
She said women must be in the know that political parties are transiting from the old registration to comply with the Constitution.
She spelt out the new Political parties rules that included terms for party registration, nomination of party candidates. “Political parties must submit membership list to the registrar three months before elections,” noted Liech.
She urged women who are in civil service to pay particular attention to the rules pertaining to their cadre.
Article 15 of the Political Parties Act spells out terms for civil servants that prohibit or allow them to be involved in political activities. Public officers are barred from forming political parties or engaging in political party activities that may jeopardise their positions as civil servants.
This article originally appeared in the Kenyan Woman Issue 24 (Download the PDF)