Crowded out by “big man” politics, Kenyan women still struggle in 2017 elections

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By Gabrielle Bardall, PhD, CIPS Research Associate and iKNOW Politics Expert

For all its progressive constitution, high-tech society, and exceptionally resourced Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Kenya is the worst performer in the East African Community (EAC) regarding women in parliament. These failures have been attributed to a lack of political will to enforce laws designed to bolster participation and defend against violence. Regrettably, few signs of change follow the 2017 elections.

On the bright side, the August 8th elections saw important gains for women’s representation at various levels of government. Twenty-two women won constituency seats (up from 16 in 2013), including four from pastoral, conservative communities, bringing the overall level of women in the National Assembly to 22%. Women have been elected to governor and senate seats for the first time (three out of 47 governorships and three out of 68 senate seats), and have made gains at the county assembly level, where they hold 6.6% of the seats.

But let there be no mistake: these incremental gains actually mask serious concerns in women’s political participation in Kenya. The first of these is a looming constitutional crisis. In 2010, a new constitution introduced a 30% gender quota. Seven years later, the quota has yet to be enacted. A discouraging 4:1 ruling by the Supreme Court before the 2013 elections determined that the quota provision would not apply to the general election but should instead be rolled out progressively by August 2015. Nearly two years after the failure to meet this deadline, the Supreme Court again ruled on quota implementation, this time giving Parliament 60 days to pass a law guaranteeing its application. Again, no law was passed and some parliamentarians (including the leader of the Kenyatta ruling coalition) denounced the ruling as an attack on parliamentary independence.

Click here to read the full article published by Centre for International Policy Studies on 21 August 2017.