Two thirds of the 11th Parliament of Kenya could soon be comprised of women thanks to a push by President Uhuru Kenyatta.The Gender Bill that would mandate a female legislative majority in the Kenyan Parliament is heeding a constitutional resolution. President Kenyatta feels that the time has come to implement what the Constitution mandates; that much was made clear when he asked Majority Leader Aden Duale to make the Gender Bill a priority and to have a formal debate before the current Parliament adjourns.
State House Speaker Manoah Esipisu explained that the President clearly showed his intent to see this legislation pass when he spoke at a religious service commemorating the life of his sister, the late Margaret Wambui, former mayor of Nairobi and a strong leadership figure in Kenya. Esipisu feels that the President is positive that bipartisanship will help move the bill along.Opposition to the Gender Bill has not been widespread, but it has been strong and somewhat unusual: in preliminary debates of the proposed rule, female Members of Parliament have exited while chanting “hiyo kitu tumeikataa,” which in Swahili means “we don’t want it.” To be clear, the women in opposition are not against having 233 sisters, so to speak, in the State House and the National Assembly, but they believe that progressive implementation of the bill is not the answer.
The principle of the constitutional amendment does not dwell on the mode of implementation, but female legislators feel that some of the proposals thus far are calling for gradually carrying out the directive, in some cases taking as long as 20 years. President Kenyatta feels that a progressive implementation at this point would face less opposition and could be improved upon as he could always invest his political capital to speed things up.
Kenya is not the only African nation seeking to expand the number of female legislators. Opponents sometimes claim that proposals such as the Gender Bill are unnecessary in a true democracy that should be blind to the gender of political candidates; however, a valid counter argument would be that more women would seek political leadership roles if official encouragement, such as more possible Parliament seats, is in place to motivate them.