• Irungu Houghton

At this rate, we will not achieve gender parity before 2069

Updated: Sep 23


With Law Society of Kenya petitioning the Chief Justice to advise President Kenyatta to dissolve the Parliament for failure to meet the two-thirds requirement for elective bodies, the struggle for the representation of women, just took a sharp turn.


Article 81(b) and 27(8) of the constitution obligates all elective and appointive bodies to not have more than two thirds representative from the same gender. Furthermore, the articles commit the State to take progressive legislative and other measures to implement this constitutional principle. Ten years since we passed the constitution, neither our elected politicians nor appointed officers have met this requirement. Nor have they have taken significant steps to do so.


On 29 March, Justice John Mativo ruled that the national executive and parliament violated Article 81(b) by not implementing the two-thirds principle for elective and appointive bodies. Responding to a petition by CREAW, CRAWN and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Attorney General was given sixty days to draft a bill and regularise this constitutional failure. Following the expiry of the deadline, the Law Society of Kenya has now written to the Chief Justice to advise the President to send parliamentarians home. Why is this such a high voltage issue?


The National Assembly and other arms of the state remain dominated by men. Women comprise of 21 per cent of the 349 strong National Assembly. We need another 42 MPs to fulfil our constitutional ambition of two thirds at minimum. While particularly acute in the case of the National Assembly, a similar pattern can be seen across other key constitutional arms of the state.


Only 3 women out of 47 senators were elected in 2017. If the political parties hadn’t nominated women, we would not have reached 31 per cent. Out of our 47 Governors, only two women Charity Ngilu and Anne Waiguru remain, after the sad passing away of Joyce Laboso last year. Despite considerable progress in appointing competent women, the national cabinet is still short by one woman to meet the two-thirds threshold. Despite the importance of the courts for family, divorce, inheritance or the right to life and property, we have never appointed a woman Chief Justice or a Kadhi.


Creating a society that is not dominated by one gender does not only affect those who wish to serve as state officers. It affects everyone of us. This week, the indefatigable Kenya National Bureau of Statistics released the Women’s Empowerment Report alongside national and county poverty reports. The report uses a series of indicators measured over a woman’s lifecycle. They include her rights awareness, ability to independently decide and act as well as her access to information, land and other productive resources. The findings are startling.


Despite a series of rights standards like the SDGs, CEDAW, African Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa as well as our own progressive Bill of Rights and policy instruments like the Mid-Term Plan III, women remain disadvantaged. Using these new criteria, only one in three rural women are empowered. Levels of empowerment increase, even double, with younger women and urbanisation. They decrease with marriage and co-habitation and reduce dramatically when women are widowed.


Informed by data, Jubilee Administration’s prioritisation and increased investment in addressing violence, enterprise development, universal education and health is paying off. While still not acceptable, levels of violence against women and girls are reducing. However, 62 per cent of Kenyans are still discriminated from economic progress because of their gender. Women still earn 23 per cent less than men. Prof Grace Wamue-Ngare has calculated that the salaries of four male executives could pay the salaries for 100 women at lower levels of their companies. At this rate, we will not achieve gender parity before 2069.


Eighteen months ago, parliamentarians casually played truant when a substantive amendment bill was placed before them. Clear, concerted and public lobbying by women and men preceded that moment. Eighteen months on, State House, Supreme Court and our elected representatives must powerfully address this issue or step down without their new outrageous pension proposals.


If a household of four men and one woman under one roof is unacceptable, Kenya cannot progress with half of its’ citizens locked out of political, social and economic decision-making. This is more urgent given COVID-19 seems set to further reverse any gains with spikes in teen pregnancies and domestic violence and new lows in women’s economic vulnerabilities. As we turn to the next decade, let’s disrupt gender-based discrimination, violence and the under-representation of women in all positions of power.


This article was co-written with Policy and Communications Specialist Joanne Kobuthi-Kuria and published in the Saturday Standard, 15 August 2020. Joanne can be reached by emailing joannekobuthi@gmail.com

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