The role of women representatives in Kenya has puzzled many Kenyans who are not aware of their roles.
There has been an intense debate on their relevance as well. Some people are not satisfied with them. They say the women representatives are inept and complacent. Some even label them as ‘flower’ girls or a ‘wastage’ of taxpayers’ money.
To others, the women representatives do not know about the role they should play in parliament.
Origin of the position and role of women representatives
Article 97 of the Constitution creates the position of women representatives. It stipulates in section (1) (b) that the membership of the National Assembly consists of,
Forty-seven women, each elected by the registered voters of the counties, each county constituting a single member constituency.
Women representatives are an outcome of the two-thirds gender law that aims at increasing the representation of women in parliament. The Constitution refers to this law several times.
The Constitution under article 100 classifies women as a special interest group. Article 27 (3) guarantees them equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunity, in the political sphere. Article 27 (6) stipulates that,
To give full effect to the realization of the rights guaranteed under this Article, the State shall take legislative and other measures, including affirmative action programmes and policies designed to redress any disadvantage suffered by individuals or groups because of past discrimination.
Article 27 (7) says any measure taken under clause (6) should adequately provide for any benefits to be based on genuine need.
Article 27 (8) also stipulates the following–
In addition to the measures contemplated in clause (6), the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.
Article 81 on the general principles for the electoral system says on section (b) that,
Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.
The role of women representatives in Kenya
Each of the 47 counties has an elected women representative at the National Assembly. The public sees them as completely different from other MPs. However, they are all similar based on their functions.
The only difference is that the role of women representatives goes beyond that of other MPs. That is why the Constitution created positions for them in parliament.
Women representatives represent the women, whom the Constitution recognizes as a marginalized group (Article 100).
Women representatives should promote the interests of women and girls within their counties. This role involves coming up with laws and policies that specifically target women and girls. Through parliament, they should lobby and advocate for equity and equal opportunities for women and girls.
They should sponsor and engage in bills, motions, resolutions, and/or notices that aim to redress any disadvantage suffered by women and girls because of past or present discrimination.
The other role of women representatives is to receive and act on petitions from the public on matters that relate to (discrimination of) women and girls.
Women Representatives in Kenya also have a role to play in mobilizing residents in their counties to identify projects that women and girls can benefit from. They should influence the national government to include or adopt these projects in the budget. Furthermore, they can utilize the role of parliament in the budget process to allocate money for these projects.
In addition, they should establish oversight mechanisms to ensure that the national government implements these projects. In doing so, they shall promote prudent use of public resources and ensure that the projects reach the target population. Their oversight will also ensure the projects have a lasting impact on the beneficiaries.
Women representatives guarantee equality for women
However, the role of women representatives does not involve providing immediate needs for the women and girls.
It is not the work of women representatives to provide sanitary towels or to drill boreholes.
They should advocate and work for long-term policy interventions to find solutions to challenges facing women and girls.
By playing their role efficiently, women representatives can guarantee gender equality.
Women Representatives in Kenya complement the elected and nominated female MPs. The position of women representatives raised the representation of women in the 11th parliament by 23%. However, the figure is below the 33% required by law (two thirds)
The other roles played by women representatives in Kenya are contained in Article 95 of the Constitution. They include budgeting (allocation, expenditure and oversight of national revenue), determining the conduct of State officers, overseeing state organs, and approving declarations of war and states of emergency.
In short, the functions of women representatives are representation, legislation and oversight (and budget allocation).
Women Representatives in Kenya and Affirmative Action Social Development Fund
They have also set aside a fund known as the Affirmative Action Social Development Fund. This fund is similar to the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). The fund is supposed to assist them to implement projects in their counties.
Ventures which this fund intends to bolster incorporate helping the recuperation of sexual and sex based brutality survivors. Others are supporting youth who have dropped out of school, vagrants and powerless kids and nurturing youngsters.
In financial year 2015/16, they received the fund up to a tune of Kshs 2 billion. They are implementing it under the umbrella of CDF.
Nevertheless, they do not deserve the fund.
A High Court ruling declared CDF unconstitutional in February 2015. The ruling reflected what the Constitution says on separation of powers between the organs of national and county governments. Lawmakers should not perform any executive functions such as management and implementation of funds.
This ruling in essence also invalidated other funds that lawmakers manage such as the Affirmative Action Social Development Fund.
Women Representatives can only play oversight on the implementation of the fund.
The role of Women Representatives in Kenya is crucial
Women Representatives in Kenya have a huge role to play in the politics and governance of this country. Those calling for parliament to do away with them should reconsider.
The Women Representatives in Kenya face challenges. Although they have not lived up to their mandate fully, Kenyans should support them. What they need most is strength and capacity to play their roles effectively.
Can a man contest for the position of women representative in Kenya?
The answer is NO. It is a position meant exclusively for women.