The role of women representatives in Kenya initially puzzled many people who were not aware of what they do. Even today, many people do not yet understand fully the role of women representatives.
There has been an intense debate on their relevance as well in the past. Some (or many) people are (or were) not satisfied with them. They say (or said) the women representatives are inept and complacent. Some even label (or labelled) them as ‘flower’ girls or a ‘wastage’ of taxpayers’ money.
To others, the women representatives are not aware of the role they should play in parliament.
Origin of the position and role of women representatives in Kenya
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 of the electoral system says in 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’s 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 special 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. These laws should also work towards improving the status of women and girls to bridge the gender gap.
The other role of women representatives in Kenya 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.
The role of women representatives in Kenya guarantees equality for women
However, the role of women representatives in Kenya should not involve providing or meeting immediate needs for women and girls. That’s not what the law intended.
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.
Their role does not also include management of funds. Parliament budgets for the Affirmative Action Social Development Fund for women representatives. It is similar to CDF.
Ventures which this fund caters for include helping the recuperation of sexual and sex-based brutality survivors. Others are supporting the youth who have dropped out of school, vagrants and vulnerable kids, and nurturing youngsters.
However, legislators should not perform executive functions, such as management of funds. Their role is oversight and managing funds and playing oversight at the same time leads to a conflict of interest.
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.
Women Representatives in Kenya complement the elected and nominated female MPs. The position of women representatives increases the number of women in parliament. However, the figure is still below the 33% required by law (two thirds).
The other role of women representatives in Kenya is in Article 95 of the Constitution. The role includes 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 and role of women representatives in Kenya is representation, legislation and oversight (and budget allocation).
Can a man contest for the position of women’s representative in Kenya?
The answer is NO. A man cannot contest for the position of a women’s representative. It is a position meant exclusively for women.