OPINION: Kenya- Inequality in Representation Raises Conflict

All Africa
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - 20:00
Eastern Africa
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Despite increased prominence of women's issues in public limelight, progress towards gender equality is still painfully slow in Kenya.

This is the case when it comes to elections where the populace has to make a choice of who should lead or represent them. Gender biases and myopic cultural beliefs have conspired to muscle women out of political leadership.

But the concept of gender equality stretches far back in history when the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1979 UN Convention voted to abolish all forms of discrimination against women.

In 2010, Kenyans too voted for a new constitution and in it; Chapters 6 and 7 are perhaps the most important chapters to consider when talking equal representation.

Kenya is a multiparty State and representation of the people is an essential facet in the functioning democracy.

Democracy is defined as "leadership by the people, for the people and to the people." But not every one of the 40 million Kenyans can be a leader at the same time. The citizenry get to participate directly in leadership through referendums, and electing people to represent them at various stages.

This representation is made possible through an electoral process as the one that Kenya is preparing for come March 2013.

Through elections, citizens choose the kind of leaders they want, which political party they deem fit, and which political ideologies appeals to their real needs, hopes, aspirations and expectations.

This gives an open platter for both men and women to offer themselves as candidates to be elected leaders. Every Kenyan aspiring to hold elective office is thus free to vie for any seat they aspire to, so long as they meet the specifications outlined in the constitution.

Chapter 6 of the Kenya constitution provides detailed information on how people shall be represented in government processes and systems. It outlines the general principles for the electoral system including freedom of citizens to exercise political rights; equity of men and women where 'not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender among others.

Electoral systems must thus be seen to be free and fair; upholding the rule of law and fostering gender parity. Electioneering process should be free from violence unlike what was witnessed in Kenya in 2007 where more than 1000 people died and 500, 000 others were displaced due to electoral violence.

The principle of equality of men and women where not more than two-thirds of public office holders are from the same gender forms the thrust of my discourse.

Culturally, women in Kenya constitute a subordinate, disadvantaged and hushed group who are routinely treated as inferior and who face sexual harassment, harmful cultural practices, stigma and discrimination. Indeed many of the problems that confront women political aspirants have to do with cultural perceptions about the role of women in society.

When women declare their political candidature, it amounts to a self inflicting venture where physical violence and verbal abuse become part and parcel of her daily encounters. Women politicians have in the past been subjected to electoral violence and all manner of malpractices and abuse.

A close scrutiny of the plight of women politician challenges point to cultural socialisation of Kenyans which does not encourage women to participate in politics. This trend seems to be changing with constitutional provisions but a lot has to be done if at least a third of those to be elected are to be from either gender. Politics has in the Kenyan context been viewed as the domain of men. In the past, women politicians were often likened to prostitutes and called all manner of names and mudslinging.

Most ethnic communities have over the years, inculcated in their offspring assumption that leadership rightfully belongs to men. In patriarchal societies, men, traditionally, are the elders and leaders and thus; make wide-ranging decisions that affect their families and the community at large.

When male politicians are given Cabinet positions, their communities often elevate them to the status of elders and accord them the right to use symbols of leadership and eldership such as walking sticks, knobkerries, beaded or feathered headdresses and traditional attire. This elevation to eldership and leadership status in their communities rarely happens to women.

But under the new constitutional dispensation, the women of Kenya have a chance of getting into decision-making organs such as Parliament to add more weight to gender equality. Equality of gender in leadership is crucial because fairness and the perception of it between different sexes is crucial in reducing gender based violence.

More and more women need to come out not just to contest but to support their womenfolk contesting for various elective posts at the County and national level come March 2013.

It is my assertion that when applied appropriately, democracy provides for the over 40 million men and women and 42+ ethnic groups in Kenya to get a chance; not just to participate in politics equally but to have a fair share of the national cake. This will in turn go a long way in reducing the potential for most forms of violence in modern day Kenya.