Early October, women MPs started putting on white ribbons and scarfs to raise awareness that the two-thirds gender bill had not been passed eight years after the promulgation of the Constitution
Under the banner of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa), the lawmakers put up a spirited campaign trying to convince their male counterparts to support the bill.
For the third time in a row, parliament has failed to pass the bill which seeks to align the membership of the National Assembly with the Constitution, which requires that not more than two thirds of seats in the appointive and elective bodies should be of the same gender.
The bill also seeks to create special nomination slots for women in the National Assembly and the Senate to bridge the gender gap.
Drafters of the 2010 Constitution did not want a situation where one gender is overly represented in parliament.
As such, they stipulated that the National Assembly and the Senate should not have more than two-thirds of members of the same gender.
“Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender,” says Article 81 (b) of the Constitution.
However, the passage of the bill has faced many hurdles with male MPs expressing reluctance in supporting it – they say it will be abused by party leaders to nominate their “girlfriends”.
The remark has, however, been sharply countered by Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege, who said the bill is not only about women, but also promotion of representation of marginalised groups such as the disabled, youth and ethnic minorities.
“This bill is not about slay queens, boyfriends or girlfriends of the politically connected. It is about the women of Kenya. It is time parliament passed the law as it risks dissolution,” Ms Chege said.
The Constitution also did not dictate how the two-thirds gender rule could be implemented so the attorney-general’s office sought an advisory from the Supreme Court on how to meet the requirement.
In December 2012, the apex court determined that the gender principle had not been transformed into a full right capable of direct enforcement, advising progressive implementation within five years of the promulgation of the Constitution.
In a verdict issued in March 2017, High Court judge John Mativo said if the gender principle would not have been implemented by June that year, anyone could write to the chief justice, asking him to advise the president to dissolve parliament.
At the core of the bill is a nomination criterion to ensure that at any given time, the number of women is at least a third of the total.
It is hard to legislate on elective positions – the bill proposes that after an election has been finalised and the gender numbers calculated, the right number of women should be nominated.
Currently, the National Assembly has 75 women MPs — 22 elected from the 290 constituencies in the last election, six nominated in the 12 slots and 47elected as woman reps.
The Senate has three elected women from the 47 counties while 18 are nominated.
Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga is very pessimistic about the rule’s implementation.
She says that by the look of things, it seems parliament will not fulfil its obligation of passing the gender bill.
“We will have to go back to the people through a referendum. I have no hope that parliament will pass it,” Ms Wanga said.
However, National Assembly Majority Whip Benjamin Washiali pointed out that all is not lost as the house leadership will continue to ‘sweet-talk’ male MPs before February.
“We deferred the vote because we did not want to fail as was the case the last two times … once bitten, twice shy,” Mr Washiali said.
The passage of the bill, popularly referred as Duale’s bill, could see the country pay about Sh60 million more in monthly salaries and other allowances to the nominated women MPs.
In terms of representation in parliament, Rwanda leads in the Eastern Africa region with 61 percent of MPs being women, according to World Bank data.
Tanzania’s women parliamentarians’ amount to 36 percent of the total.
Burundi has a similar percentage while Uganda follows with 34 percent and Kenya trails at 22 percent.
Tongaren MP Eseli Simiyu described the bill as a manifestation of laziness in complying with the constitutional requirement.
Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa noted that there must be a nomination procedure so that deserving cases are not sacrificed for political interests.