by Irene Ekonga
The Gender Forum for the month of November, the third of a 4-month series focusing on gender dimensions in elections sought to interrogate the role of political parties in promoting gender equality in leadership against the backdrop of the present impasse regarding the implementation
The Panellists’ included Nancy Gachoka,the National Vice Chairperson of the United Democratic Forum (UDF), David Muriuki Ndwiga, the National Youth Representative, Wiper Democratic Party, Immaculate Musya, the Gender Officer, Orange Democratic Movement, Beth Syengo, the Women’s Chair, Orange Democratic Movement, Daniels Taabu, the Executive Officer, NARC Kenya and was moderated by Asunza Masiga. The forum brought together members of civil society, the media, political parties, students and academia to discuss the critical role of political parties in enhancing women’s increased participation in leadership.
Taking cognisance of the crucial role of political parties in the electoral process, the forum sought to ascertain the position of political parties on the controversy surrounding the timelines for the implementation of the gender two-thirds rule enshrined in Article 81 b) of the Constitution which provides that no more than two thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender. It also sought to interrogate party initiatives to bridge the gender gap in political participation, challenges and untapped potential relating to women’s political participation in Kenya.
Party Positions and initiatives
- United Democratic Forum
UDF affirmed its commitment to the implementation of the gender rule noting that it had been involved in lobbying Parliament for its immediate implementation. In addition, to demonstrate their support for increased participation of women in decision making fora and inclusive governance as a key tenet of democracy, the party had complied with the rule in elections for members to party organs such as the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the National Elections Board. The NEC, UDF’s highest decision making organ was constituted by six (6) women and seven (7) men. The party rules also sought to eliminate bottlenecks to women’s participation in politics by for instance allowing women to pay a lower nomination fee in order to contest for an elective position.
- NARC Kenya
The party affirmed their commitment to the instantaneous implementation of the gender rule and cited lack of political will as the main obstacle to the realization of the right of women to participate in shaping policies that affected their wellbeing and implored the Executive to step up and give directions on a mechanism for the implementation of the rule. The party asserted that the rule was not just a human rights but justice issue and was a test of the Nation’s commitment to values enshrined in the Constitution such as non discrimination and equality. It was reported, that since the inception of the party, NARC Kenya had ensured that the gender rule was complied with in the composition of all committees. The party had a Women’s League also spear headed the implementation of programmes and mobilization of women to participate in party activities. Further, the party had initiated a mentorship project for women and was carrying out civic education to challenge stereotypes and norms that undermined female participation in leadership. To demonstrate their stand, it was the only party that would be fronting a female presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections.
- Orange Democratic Movement
ODM emphasised their good track record in addressing gender issues through their firm support for the new Constitution that articulated their stand in relation to issues affecting women including their low numbers in political participation and decision making. In addition, the party sought to address obstacles to women’s participation in politics such as stereotyping, violence and inadequate funding through civic education, the Orange Ribbon Peace Movement to stem violence, harsh penalties for the use of violence and intimidation, and economic empowerment initiatives for women.
- Wiper Democratic Party
The party provided a platform for women to test run their leadership abilities and skills by granting independence to the Women’s League to manage their own affairs. It further required and empowered its members to utilize the party manifesto and constitution to hold the party to accountable for pledges made and placed emphasis on transparency in all party processes and activities.
Challenges cited included stereotypical notions that politics was a preserve for men; tribalism and personality based rather than issue based politics; impunity and lack of respect for the rule of law; violence and intimidation by male candidates; and limited access to funds for female candidates.
The opportunities noted included the consolidation of gains made by the Constitution, gender mainstreaming in all sectors, increased transparency and accountability in the electoral and party processes, creation of a political environment that promoted women’s political participation, rigorous civic education drives to ensure information reached grassroots women and men, and continued and strengthened collaboration between political parties and civil society to push the gender agenda forward.
It was pointed out that there was need in the long run to work towards building the capacity of women to square off against their male counterparts at constituency level and ensure they were equipped with the skills to deliver on pledges made and impact decisions within the County Assembly, National Assembly and the Senate. While certain parties had evidently pushed for the passing of the Constitutional Amendment Bill, other parties were urged to join stakeholders in putting pressure on the Parliament to pass bill into law. A call was also made to parties to utilize party rules and civic education to uproot deeply entrenched obstacles to the participation of women in leadership and to work towards more balanced representation of women and men in decision making at all levels.
Citizens were called upon to agitate for inclusive governance and the participation of all marginalised groups in decision making, to dislodge obstacles to full and active participation of all categories of persons in decision making, to hold political parties to account on their manifestos, constitutions and the Political Parties Act, and to join political parties and influence change from within.