Last August, UNDP Kenya in collaboration with UN Women, the National Gender and Equality Commission, the Ministry of Gender and NDI organised a three days Regional Dialogue on Women Political Leadership.

The objective of this dialogue was to bring together women leaders from the region, namely Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and South Africa to share and discuss women political engagement and gender equality. The Democratic Governance (DGU) Unit where I work as a UNV since February took the lead with the UNDP Gender office in NY in organising this conference that was attended by more than 300 women. My role within the DGU Team was to coordinate with the international participants, it involves thinking strategically at the women leaders that should discuss and moderate, the thematic of each sessions, the balance between international leaders experience and the women grassroots challenges. Our team worked very closely and we all helped with logistic aspects of the conference.

This conference felt within the framework of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya that opened space for women’s participation in decision-making within the three arms of government (Legislative, Executive and Judiciary) through the provision of a gender quota. It requires that no more than 2/3 of the members of each elected and appointed body shall be of the same gender.

Kenya has joined the countries of the region using constitutional reserved seats to increase women’s political participation. Kenyan’s new constitution is not only a historic landmark for the country, but a milestone in the East African women’s rights movement. As such, the new provision will be put to test at the next general election scheduled to take place in March 2013. Kenya’s next Parliament and Senate run a risk of being declared unconstitutional if at least a third of their members are not women. And this could indeed happen likewise in Egypt where last June the Parliament was declared unconstitutional. To avoid those challenges, Ministers must put their act together and bring about the proposed amendments.

The Kenyan politics have been dominated by men due to the patriarchal nature of the Kenyan society. Indeed Kenya remains behind in term of gender equality with less than 10 percent of women MPs, compared to an average of 56 percent in Rwanda, 35 in Uganda, 30 in Burundi and 38 in Ethiopia. Therefore, the provision has to be operationalised through an enabling law to achieve a minimum of 1/3 of women in the next parliament. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, political parties, parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Gender, the National Gender and Equality Commission and other key institutions have important roles to play in this regard.

Furthermore, there is a need to facilitate a public consensus around the articulation of the affirmative action provision on the right as well as important role of women in political decision-making. In this respect, the media has a critical role to play. The effectiveness and numbers of women in politics can also be enhanced through a strategic partnership with the civil society organisations which is the home for the women’s movement.

In my opinion, the participation of women in decision-making roles in the public and private sectors does not only represent a must for cohesion, peace and development in the country, it is also a simple human right that has been violated for centuries. The UNDP director for Gender, Winnie Byanyima, argues that the positions set aside for women will result to more equitable development and as research has shown women’s participation in decision-making improve the quality of governance.

During the conference, some challenges have been discussed such as the lack of qualified women to fulfil the one-third promise. Women in Kenya still face many obstacles regarding access to education especially in rural areas. But personally I believe that this can only change if women take the lead and put in place structures to enable girls to have access to education. For too many years, national priorities have been seen from the lens of men and not women. This must change.

Through a video message delivered at the conference, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf congratulated Kenya for passing the quota in the Constitution. She said that women lack education, resources, political experience and connections to vie for office and that it is political parties and the media who make or break them. She added that we should change the hearts, minds and attitudes of those who obstruct women.

Let’s pledge to continue fighting for gender equality and women empowerment.

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About Nazila Vali

Economist and International Development Professional | SOAS Grad | Iranian, Italian and Swiss Citizen | Feminist | Catch Me If You Can

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