Male MPS kill Gen­der Bill and the dream of women, again

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - OPINION -

In the end, the spir­ited ef­forts by the women MPS’ cau­cus – the Kenya Women Par­lia­men­tary As­so­ci­a­tion (Ke­wopa) – fell short. Ahead of the Wed­nes­day D-day, the ladies had thrown a din­ner bash at the Nor­folk ho­tel for their male col­leagues as part of the in­tense lob­by­ing to coax them to sup­port the Gen­der Bill. This was the third at­tempt to pass a bill that would meet the con­sti­tu­tion’s re­quire­ment that at least a third of MPS be women.

Come vot­ing day, Na­tional Assem­bly Ma­jor­ity Leader

Aden Duale had no choice but to shelve the vote. He sim­ply didn’t have the num­bers. A con­sti­tu­tional bill like the Gen­der Bill must meet a high thresh­old. At a min­i­mum

233 MPS in the 349-mem­ber Na­tional Assem­bly must vote Yes. On the af­ter­noon of the failed vote, those in the cham­ber were well short of that num­ber. And no­body even knew for cer­tain how they would vote.

Here is the rou­tine: If on the ta­ble is a con­sti­tu­tional bill which as an MP you don’t par­tic­u­larly like, you keep off the cham­ber so as to deny it quo­rum from the out­set. You don’t have to be phys­i­cally present to vote No, par­tic­u­larly if you don’t want the un­com­fort­able scru­tiny which sur­rounds emo­tive bills like the Gen­der Bill.

Of course no­body – the male MPS es­pe­cially – wanted to be la­belled a sex­ist goat, and each tried hard to flaunt their sup­posed lack of prej­u­dice. It was left to the plain-spo­ken Mai­son Leshoomo, the Sam­buru County Women Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, to say what her younger, more so­phis­ti­cated Ke­wopa sis­ters were not say­ing with their ear­lier breezy op­ti­mism. Ad­dress­ing her­self to the male MPS who were pro­nounc­ing sup­port for the bill, she ob­served: “Words say Yes, but we don’t know what is in your hearts.” She in­stinc­tively knew that many male MPS were speak­ing from both ends of their mouths.

Pa­tri­archy, no doubt, was in play. It dis­guises it­self in many forms, such as a pre­tended dis­taste for “slay queens”. These slay­ers, so went a vi­cious smear cam­paign started by the Gen­der Bill’s op­po­nents, would be the true in­her­i­tors of the en­larged quota of women MPS ear­marked by the bill. How­ever, other more mun­dane prob­lems had their share of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the demise of the bill.

At the root is this 2010 mon­grel of a con­sti­tu­tion, which set tar­gets that have proved to be elec­torally in­sur­mount­able. It had laid out an ad­mirable vi­sion of gen­der eq­uity for elec­tive bod­ies, but left the fog­gi­est of roadmaps on how to get there. Since so far it has not been pos­si­ble to have enough women elected in enough num­bers to form at least a third of Par­lia­ment and the County As­sem­blies, the only rem­edy is to nom­i­nate the ex­tra num­bers.

There is a fun­da­men­tal con­tra­dic­tion, though. The same con­sti­tu­tion des­ig­nates the num­ber of seats in both the Se­nate and Na­tional Assem­bly. Ex­ceed­ing this num­ber in pursuit of the mag­i­cal one-third gen­der thresh­old breaches the con­sti­tu­tion. Yet not ad­her­ing to this prin­ci­ple vi­o­lates the con­sti­tu­tion too. As early as 2012, the then At­tor­neygen­eral, Githu Muigai, sought an ad­vi­sory from the Supreme Court on what to do. Other than a vague rul­ing that the gen­der rule be im­ple­mented “pro­gres­sively” to­ward 2015, the Supreme Court ap­peared as clue­less as ev­ery­body else.

The lat­est Gen­der Bill tried to go around this prob­lem by seek­ing to post­pone im­ple­men­ta­tion to 2022. Still, there were huge un­re­solved is­sues. Does the one-third rule ap­ply only for elec­tive seats, or for the en­tire com­bined lot of elected and nom­i­nated MPS and sen­a­tors, in­clu­sive of the af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion slots of County Women Rep­re­sen­ta­tives? What will be the for­mula – and cri­te­ria

– of nom­i­na­tion? In fact, the game-killer for the bill was its lack of clar­ity on this score. Another visit to the Supreme Court for in­ter­pre­ta­tion seemed in­evitable.

Op­po­nents seized on this lack of clear nom­i­na­tion rules to in­sin­u­ate that po­lit­i­cal party “own­ers” would take ad­van­tage of the void to en­trench a prac­tice of nom­i­nat­ing rel­a­tives and loy­al­ists, if not those slay queens. There was the ad­di­tional anx­i­ety that the ben­e­fi­cia­ries would be the elit­ist, sem­i­nar-lov­ing women and not their gen­uinely dis­ad­van­taged ru­ral kin.

Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion is a form of to­kenism. The jury is out on whether the in­grained struc­tures of inequal­ity are nec­es­sar­ily torn down when a few top-up seats are al­lo­cated in Par­lia­ment. In other words, do these nom­i­nated posts trans­late to real women em­pow­er­ment? At bot­tom, the Gen­der Bill’s biggest draw­back was the wide­spread pub­lic re­sent­ment at what was seen to be a creep­ing cul­ture of en­ti­tle­ment cam­ou­flaged as af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion. “Waende debe” (bal­lot box) was a pop­u­lar re­tort on so­cial me­dia. It ex­pressed the ir­ri­ta­tion with women un­will­ing to sub­ject them­selves to com­pet­i­tive, mer­i­to­cratic elec­tions. Lost in the din was the women’s cry that the ground was struc­turally un­even.

Let’s pause and re­think if equal­ity is be­ing sought in the right way.

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