Women's Political Participation for Sustainable Development; The need for a Gender Equality Law

Women's political participation is an essential component for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals will only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision makers, and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies.

One of the most effective ways of improving the status and well-being of women is by ensuring their full, equal and effective participation in decision-making at all levels of political, economic and social life. This approach promotes and protects women’s human rights while allowing society to benefit from the diverse experiences, talents and capabilities of all its members.

The need for a Gender Equality Law as has been witnessed recently in Countries like Nigeria and Kenya is essential in order to ensure constitutional and legislative reform processes and the voluntary measures are introduced to enhance gender equality within political leadership of a country. Gender inequality in political spaces has been an issue for several centuries, the world over. History has it that fewer women have been in power even before colonialism.

Kenya’s new constitution and the Government’s Vision 2030 both address gender equality. For example, the Bill of Rights in the constitution affirms equal rights and non-discrimination, and the constitution embeds affirmative action aiming at improving equal participation in decision making. Notwithstanding that gender equality is clearly recognized as key for development in Kenya, there are still considerable differences in the country between men and women’s possibilities to control and benefit from economic, social and political resources and structures.

On 11th December 2012, the Supreme Court of Kenya delivered a majority decision that the realization of the two-thirds gender principle under Article 81 (b) is progressive. In its ruling, the Supreme Court directed that Parliament is under an obligation to have a framework on realization of the two third Gender Rule by 27th August 2015.

The Hon. Attorney General Githu Muigai had filed a request in the Supreme Court for an Advisory Opinion as to whether the two-thirds gender principle was to be realized by the first general elections (under the new Constitution) i.e. in March 2013, or over a longer period of time.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Attorney General constituted a technical working group (TWG) on 3rd February 2014, that included the National Gender and Equality Commission (Convener and Secretariat); Ministry of Devolution and Planning, Attorney General’s Office, Office of the Registrar of Political Parties; Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission; Commission on Administrative Justice, Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution; Parliament (Committees on the Implementation of the Constitution and Legal Affairs, respectively); Kenya Women’s Parliamentary Association- and FIDA–Kenya representing civil society. The Technical Working Group’s role was to develop a mechanism for the implementation of the Two-thirds principle and to ensure this mechanism is ready within the deadline provided.

For the last one year, the Technical Working Group has sought and received various proposals from the public and experts on potential viable formulas. The Group has meticulously analyzed and processed all those proposals and considered the merits and demerits. All proposals have been shared with the Hon Attorney General for his input

After engaging with Kenyans and stakeholders and both local and international constitutional experts on the matter, the team has concluded that the only proposed formula that will realize the two third gender rule with precision is amending the Kenya Constitution 2010. The amendment is to use the formula that has worked for the county governments after the 2013 elections thus lifting Article 177 (1) (b) and (c) of the Constitution and importing it in Article 97 and 98 of the constitution for representation in the National Assembly and Senate accordingly

Fast-forward to April 2016 and equitable gender representation in elective and appointive leadership positions remains a thorny subject. Cabinet, as constituted, does not meet the two-thirds criteria. Whereas key stakeholders agree that women leaders should be part and parcel of the government and the state, part of the political class has not demonstrated commitment that would ensure a clear mechanism is provided in law to facilitate implementation of the two-thirds gender rule.

On April 27, 2016, MPs fell short of the threshold of passing the Constitution of Kenya Amendment No. 4 Bill of 2015 also known as the ‘Duale Bill.’ Only 195 MPs voted for the Bill against the 233 MPs required to pass it. In effect, 38 MPs refused to support the bill despite being present. It is for that reason that National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi ordered a fresh voting after 199 legislators supported it, while 28 opposed.

Women MPs have continued to lobby their men counterparts, while both the Jubilee and Cord principals have been urging their MPs to vote for it. Nairobi woman representative Rachel Shebesh said the bill has to be passed as required by the constitution to beat the five-year deadline, despite opposition by some men MPs.

As we await on whether the Bill will be passed into law, it is important to note that this Bill will be an important piece of legislation that will address the invisibility of women in the development process starting from women's political participation from the lowest to the highest government office. Needless to say, in the design of sustainable development interventions, it is imperative that we take into account the situation and needs of both women and men. Women are clearly the more disadvantaged sex all over the world and a gender equality law would provide a framework for interventions that recognize and take into account the role of women in sustainable development. Its really about time that we got a law that would be accelerate women's political participation for development.