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New laws ignored, so women trailed in Kenya 2013 election

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 5 Dec 2013 02:58 PM
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Uhuru Kenyatta (C) displays the special sword, representing his power and authority, he received from his predecessor Mwai Kibaki (2nd L) after being sworn in as Kenyan President at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi. Photo April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
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NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – New laws designed to increase the number of elected women in Kenyan politics had no effect on the 2013 elections because those concerned failed to implement them, the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) said.

“We have good laws that we are not using,” said Mariam Kamunyu, the lead author of ‘Key Gains and Challenges: A Gender Audit of Kenya’s 2013 Election Process’, a report on how women fared in the polls,

The March 2013 elections were the first to be held under Kenya’s 2010 constitution, which outlawed discrimination, promoted equality and created  reserved seats for women. This raised hopes that more women would enter parliament and take new positions in the Senate and county governments.

The results disappointed backers of the new constitution. In the national assembly, women won just six percent of directly elected constituency seats, down from eight percent in 2007. Not a single woman was elected to the powerful position of governor or senator for the 47 newly created counties.

Kamunyu, presenting the report on Wednesday, accused virtually all the bodies involved of failing to uphold women’s rights - the electoral commission, the political parties, the police and the registrar for political parties.

At the launch of the election campaign, women candidates said their supporters were beaten, they were slandered and their billboards were defaced, without redress.

“Most duty bearers did not fully utilise their authority, their discretion and the constitutional backing that they had to significantly expand the space for women’s participation,” said Kamunyu.

“Politics is very difficult for women,” said Roza Buyu, who has stood for parliament twice without success. “A lot of unfairness against women goes on because officials do not care.”

VIOLENCE, STEREOTYPES, LACK OF MONEY

Female parliamentary candidates in Kenya face many barriers, such as violence, cultural and social stereotypes, lack of money and lack of political connections.

Before 2013, Kenyan women had the lowest level of parliamentary representation in the region. Less than 10 percent of Kenyan MPs were female, compared with at least 30 percent in all its east African neighbours. Rwanda leads the world with women holding 56 percent of its parliamentary seats.

The Kenyan report said the 2013 election resulted in women holding 19 percent of the seats in the national assembly and hailed this as a “historic and impressive improvement in women’s representation.” But this was due largely to the addition of reserved seats for women, not success at the ballot box.

At the local level, women won five percent of the 1,450 ward representative positions, 82 seats, while 680 were nominated to seats.

The report said the women’s performance was dismal largely because few women actually stood. Between 93 and 97 percent of candidates for the various positions were male. 

“The women who actually ran, they actually performed just as well as the men. It’s only that getting to the race is made so difficult,” Kamunyu said.

The success rate among women who tried to become MPs was 12 percent, compared to 14 percent for men. The sexes were equally likely to win a seat as a member of a county assembly, with a success rate for each of 15 percent.

“If the electoral environment had been fair and more women had made it to the ballot papers, they could have been as successful as male candidates,” Kamunyu said.  “Change could occur if more women pursued elective positions.”

BASTIONS OF PATRIARCHY

One of the main hurdles for women was getting nominated by political parties.

“The party is one of the biggest challenges to women acquiring political leadership,” said Alice Wahome, elected as an MP this year after losing in 2002 and 2007.

“This time I was able to infiltrate into the party management… so I knew the network properly that was going to be used to come up with nominations.”

Women called for party democracy to be strengthened so that the nomination process was fairer and more transparent.

The 2011 Political Parties Act says that not more than two-thirds of a party’s membership or governing body must be of the same gender.

FIDA said that parties had falsified their membership lists to inflate the number of female members and only appointed women to peripheral positions on their national executive councils.

“Political parties retained their traditional role, serving as bastions of patriarchy and subjugation of women,” the report said.

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