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Focus on Africa: Kenyan gender bill in peril

Kenyan parliament in Nairobi, 26 March 2015.
Kenyan parliament in Nairobi, 26 March 2015. AFP/ SIMON MAINA

Kenyan MPs shelve landmark gender bill in fierce battle for controversial perks.


Mother Kenya had been expected to deliver the gender "baby" last Wednesday, but lawmakers whose parties sponsored the bi-partisan legislation, failed to turn up in sufficient numbers for the vote forcing House Speaker Justin Mature to postpone it until February.

At the heart of the reform is the nomination of an additional 75 women to both houses. In terms of numbers, there are just 172 women out of the 1883 elected and appointed officials in Kenya’s bicameral legislature.The number falls short of the two-thirds threshold stipulated in the constitution.

War over Perks

It has now emerged that the majority of the MPs was reluctant to pass the bill before President Kenyatta signs a controversial 2018 Parliamentary Service Bill increasing lawmakers perks. Despite earning wages amounting 1.2 million Shillings (10,000 euros), the MPs want more budget provisions, including house allowances, car loans, enhanced insurance cover, and special funds for the monitoring and evaluation of national government projects in each of Kenya’s 290 constituencies.

David Makali is content editor with Kenya’s Star newspaper in Nairobi. He says that while there is substantial support for the bill in the house, lawmakers are also strongly opposed to the idea of topping up seats to meet constitutional requirements on gender parity.

Sacrificing democracy for affirmative action

The opponents of the bill include National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale according to several media outlets in Nairobi. Their argument is that it negates the provisions of Article 38(2) of the Constitution on political rights, which gives every citizen the right to take part and stand in free, fair and regular elections based on universal suffrage.

David Makali also raises issues of due process to be addressed before lawmakers to get their act right. According to Makali, one is the failure of the bill to define the numbers of seats reserved for affirmative action during every election, in the process of achieving the two-thirds threshold.

Constitutional Amendment

Makali also voices skepticism at the ability of lawmakers to agree on those numbers without prior amendment of the constitution.

Comment by David Makali, content editor Star Newspaper, Nairobi

He says it could take up to ninety days to draft it and six months to allow the bill to be published and debated in the public domain, as stipulated in Kenya’s basic law.

Several Kenya’s newspapers relay warnings by some senior lawmakers that the gender bill could produce the undesired results of seeing the appointment of women who do not represent women’s interests but those of the influential men who sponsored them.

Shifting party loyalties?

A senior Kenyan rights activist, who refused to be quoted in this report, told RFI he wasn’t sure that women are the best representatives of women. The Nairobi-based former official of the Constituent Assembly, noted that he didn't know very many women who were capable of giving six reasons why they are  ready to become politicians only to champion women’s emancipation.

Commentators are now running with the line that the organized deferment of the bi-partisan bill is actually a show of defiance and shifting party loyalties in Kenyan politics, right under the noses of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his “handshake” partner Raila Odinga.


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