Africa, Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

POLITICS: Women’s Representation Key to Development

Miriam Gathigah

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 16 2010 (IPS) - Research has shown that women account for more than half of the population of any country. This is reflected in the 2010 Census results, where there are slightly more women than men in Kenya.

Jennifer Massis, one of the few female voices in Kenya Credit: Miriam Gathigah

Jennifer Massis, one of the few female voices in Kenya Credit: Miriam Gathigah

However, this large population of women is invisible in key decision-making processes, particularly in governance – at both local and national level. Even though the trend is slowly changing in Kenya and there are now more women in the current Parliament than there have ever been, there is still a need for more women in political leadership.

Of the 222 Members of Parliament, only 22 are women – with only 16 having been elected and 6 nominated. Since 2003 when the number of women stood at 18, there has been a notable positive change in how various ministries conduct business.

The need for an engendered process cannot be over-emphasised due to the fact that men and women leaders have been known to have varying political interests, and consequently different practical strategic needs. “At the policy level, we have seen various gender responsive laws such as the Sexual Offences Act of 2006 introduced in parliament by a sitting female MP, Hon Njoki Ndung’u. There is also the Children’s Act of 2002, Employment Act of 2007, Political Parties Act of 2007.The significance of these pieces of legislation in seeking gender equality and equity is important,” explains Kakuvi Njoka, a Lawyer in Tharaka-Nithi County, Eastern region of Kenya.

The Employment Act, as well as the Political Parties Act, looks into key issues of gender representation in the socio-economic and political arena. They are geared towards promoting equal participation by both men and women and to discourage practices that are gender discriminative.

“Both Acts provide a minimum threshold of the number of women, since they are the marginalised gender that should be considered in both employment and in political parties. They therefore speak to the Presidential Decree that stated that there should be at least 30 percent of women representation in all public offices,” Jane Malika, a gender activist in Nairobi, explains

“With the introduction of the Women’s Fund, a micro finance kitty, more women are now able to access loans from the government but after having been taken through various levels of capacity building,” explains Dan Maingi, an accountant in Kiambu County, Central Kenya.

The introduction of live coverage of Parliament has also shown a paradigm shift in the direction that debates in Parliament have taken and other policies that have resulted from these debates such as the Sessional Paper No 2 of 2006 on Gender Equality and Development, National Land Policy, National Reproductive and Health Policy, Gender Policy in Education of 2007 and the National Policy for the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation (2008- 2012).

Through the urging of female MPs, in 2007 the government committed itself to set aside close to 125 thousand dollars to address a fundamental problem. It had been noted that female pupils and students, particularly in rural areas where the population is more afflicted with poverty, would be absent from school for five days in a month due to a lack of sanitary towels. This translates to two months of not attending school in one academic year.

A recent study conducted by the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) and the Division of Reproductive Health, Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation shows that sanitary towels are not always available and girls from slums suffer the most.

This public discussion of a topic that was previously taboo due to the conservative nature of the society, has led to well-wishers making donations towards ensuring that girls do not stay out of school due to a lack of sanitary towels.

Imperative to note is also the process of Constitutional Review that recently saw Kenya promulgate a new Constitution. “In 2008, the then Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon Martha Karua, begun to relentlessly push for a time-table that would guide the review of the Constitution. Together with other female MPs she also ensured that the review process was gender sensitive,” explains Jennifer Massis, a politician and former Parliamentary aspirant.

This can be reflected in the organisation of the Committee of Experts mandated with the task of drafting the Constitution, as well as some of the Clauses within the document which include the Affirmative Action Clause which stipulates that at least a third of either gender should be represented in various elective positions.

Although having more women in leadership positions does not necessarily translate into gender equality, women’s active participation in decision- making is essential.

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