Women’s political inclusion in Kenya’s devolved political system
By Yolande Bouka, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, USA; Marie E. Berry, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, USA; and Marilyn Muthoni Kamuru, Gender Expert, Consultant and Legal Analyst, Kenya.
Published in 2019 in the Journal of Eastern African Studies
Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/17531055.2019.1592294
Factors impeding political participation and representation of women in Kenya
By Douglas Lucas Kivoi, Kenya Institute for Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), Governance Division, Nairobi, Kenya.
Published in 2014 in the Journal for Humanities and Social Sciences
Available at: 10.11648/j.hss.20140206.15
The two articles, by Yolande Bouka et al. and Douglas Kivoi, assess the structural barriers to women’s inclusion in Kenyan politics. They note that, despite the Constitution of Kenya of 2010 that introduced two reforms – devolution and the gender principle to promote gender equity – nonetheless the prevailing norms that hinder women’s political inclusion persist. These include the political parties’ structures, financial capabilities, societal norms and gendered violence, despite the fact that devolution created a more localised and highly competitive political system. The articles highlight the reasons for the introduction of devolution: to promote vertical inclusivity and curb the politics of “winner-takes-all”. This opened up leadership positions to previously underrepresented groups, such as women. In 2013, Kenya implemented the gender principle for the first time and recorded the highest number of women in Kenyan history in both the legislature and the cabinet (at 21% and 22% respectively). In 2017, the results improved further, with the legislature and cabinet including 22% and 31% women respectively.
Women’s representation in major national institutions remains below the one-third gender threshold, thus violating the Constitution, while at the local level, most compliance can be attributed to the fact of women being nominated for particular posts, with elected women accounting for only 9% at both levels. Kenya’s poor performance on women’s inclusion is puzzling given its robust policy framework on gender equity. The country lags behind in East Africa despite its being the region’s leading economy, with its neighbours performing better at including women in parliament: Uganda – 34%, Tanzania – 37%, Burundi – 36%, Ethiopia – 39% and Rwanda – 61%, while Kenya stands at 22%.
Substantial research has been conducted on women’s political participation, and the majority of findings promote women’s empowerment approaches that are multi-causal in nature, such as proportional representative (PR) electoral systems and the quota system, both of which have favoured and fast-tracked women’s entry into politics. For example, sub-Saharan Africa has been successful in the inclusion of women in politics due to a quota system that acknowledges underrepresented groups, serving as a tipping point to secure influence for these groups. Also, its shift to democratic societies has provided platforms for dialogue on the political status quo and opened up spaces for women’s participation.
Firstly, the articles portray the patriarchal nature of the political parties, which remain significant conduits for political posts. The dominance of men in party structures and the parties’ confinement of women to reserved nomination positions significantly hinder women’s participation in politics, while also negating the possibility of nominated seats acting as a “stepping stone” to elected seats. Further, Kivoi emphasises that the lack of political goodwill on the part of male politicians towards women’s inclusion in politics and governance structures contributes to the latter’s low participation.
Secondly, the gendered nature of electoral financing is a greater obstacle for women in politics than men. In most Kenyan communities, women are at an economic disadvantage as they have no access to land and property rights, despite the fact that, these are guaranteed by the constitution. Moreover, only 23% of Kenyan women are members of communal enterprises that offer accessible financing, a fact that hinders them in running successful campaigns. Bouka et al. illustrate the massive expenses linked to the political process and the voters’ perspective on material expectations in sub-Saharan Africa to gauge the candidates ability to provide and legitimate them.
Thirdly, gendered and disdainful language used to describe women candidates suggests the stickiness of patriarchal attitudes towards women leadership. Both articles point out the socialisation of Kenyans to believe that political positions are more suited for men and that politics is “a men-only affair”, while women are confined to gendered domestic responsibilities in the role of helpers, which Kivoi cites as a sexist perspective. He also stresses that if the social norms continue to favour men and downgrade women from power and authority, it will be difficult for women to participate on an equal footing with men in political processes.
Finally, violence against women in politics (VAWIP) deters their participation in political processes and lowers the likelihood of them securing party tickets, while electoral-related violence also impacts on voter turnout and participation. The two texts outline the forms of violence faced by women during elections, while Bouka et al. underscore the continued failure of parties to sanction perpetrators despite possessing robust policy frameworks that prohibit gender-based violence.
Therefore, despite the legal reforms of the government, the results are disappointing, as the participation of women in politics remain exceptionally low. My opinion is that policy frameworks cannot solve the root causes of historical exclusion and marginalisation of women in politics; however, social and behavioural change campaigns against the fallacious narratives on women leadership could tackle this. We are the products of our societies. These two articles are powerful empirical contributions that depict the status of women’s political inclusion, and although their reflections focus on the Kenyan context, the barriers described are applicable to most developing countries. Concerted efforts by nations towards women’s inclusion in politics are essential to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Reviewed by: Gloria Kenyatta
Foto: ©Cynthia Matonhodze, Harare, Zimbabwe