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What is the role of Women Representatives in Kenya? This question has been posed extensively in the mainstream media and the social media circles. The concern on women representatives revolves around the nature of their functions and mandates as elected representatives.
As such, there has been an intense debate on the relevance of the women reps, with a big percentage of the population unaware of the roles and functions. In fact, many Kenyans have expressed dissatisfaction with the women representatives due to the perceived ineptness and complacency by some of them.
One of the grievances raised by Kenyans with regard to the women representatives is that they are “wastage of taxpayers’ money.” Two years since they were sworn into office, the women representatives have not been sufficiently eloquent and compelling in articulating the issues that brought them forth into parliament.
Women representatives are an outcome of the two-thirds gender rule that aims at increasing the representation of women in parliament. Each of the 47 counties has an elected women representative situated at the National Assembly.
While the public perceives them as a different group of legislators, the women representatives are in fact Members of Parliament (MPs) just like the members representing the constituencies and the Senate. Whereas it appears that they were elected to balance the gender equation (affirmative action), their role goes beyond this trajectory and encompasses many other functions under the Constitution and Acts of Parliament.
What are the roles played by the women representatives in Kenya?
First, we have already seen that women representatives are an outcome of the two-thirds gender rule that is aimed at balancing the gender equation in parliament by creating room for more women in parliament (affirmative action).
Second, women representatives are supposed to primarily promote the interests of women and the girl child within their counties (and by large, nationwide) by coming up with legislation that favors and suits the women and girls within their dominions.
Through legislation, they should lobby and advocate for the rights, freedoms and interests of the women and girls, who are perceived by the society to be the ‘weaker sex’ in order to uplift them to the standard where they are considered at par with their male counterparts.
Women representatives in their legislative capacity are supposed to formulate legislative policies that uplift the social, economic, and political status of women and girls in the country. Nevertheless, this advocacy does not necessarily involve advocating for immediate needs for the women and girls, such as sanitary towels and boreholes.
The intention of the position and mandate of the women representatives was for their roles to be long term in addressing the challenges that face the women and girls in this country due to persistent marginalization and neglect by the patriarchal society. This includes ensuring, through legislation and policy formulation, that majority of the female population has a certain level of affordable access to basic needs and wants, rights and freedoms, privileges and protections.
Women representatives also complement the elected constituency MPs and nominated women MPs. Their existence raised the representation of women in parliament by 23%. This achievement is however below the 33% required by law.
The other roles played by women representatives in Kenya are contained in Article 95 of the Constitution and they include budgeting (allocation, appropriation and oversight of national revenue), determining the conduct of State officers, overseeing state organs and approving declarations of war and states of emergency.
In addition, women representatives say they represent the youth, the elderly and the disabled (PLWDs) and other special interest groups (Article 100) as part of their affirmative action function. They say their title should not be taken to mean that they represent women alone. However, their functions largely pertain to the women and girls (apparently because that is the group that needs affirmative action the most).
They are also supposed to mobilize county residents to identify projects that can benefit from affirmative action, and lobby the national government to fund these projects. Also, they can push parliament to adopt these projects in the budget. Through their oversight function, they can adopt measures and establish mechanisms to ensure that they monitor how government officials implement these projects and ensure value for money for the taxpayer.
Women Representatives and Management of Funds
They have also been allocated 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 the women to implement projects in their counties that are in line with their mandate of female gender empowerment.
Money had been allocated in the previous financial year for the fund but it was never released.
Nevertheless, they do not deserve the fund. A recent High Court ruling declared CDF unconstitutional and the Constitution prohibits legislative members from performing executive functions, which includes management of funds.
Legislators are supposed to represent the people, oversee the national government and its organs and to legislate (make and amend laws). In essence, the ruling that invalidated CDF also invalidated other funds like the women representatives Social Affirmative Action Fund.
Women Representatives have a huge role to play in the politics and governance of this country. Those calling parliament to do away with the women representatives should think again. Even though the women representatives face numerous challenges and have not lived up fully to their mandate, Kenyans should support them in capacity and effort building initiatives in order to strengthen them in appreciation for the roles played by the women representatives in Kenya.
(Last updated in April 2016. See an abridged version of this article here)