Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Girls & Women

Kenya's High Court: One Third of Lawmakers Must Be Women — or Else

Flickr - IAEA Imagebank

As women around the world continue to fight for equal representation in government, Kenya just took a major step forward as a global leader.  

The High Court of Kenya recently gave the Kenyan parliament 60 days to implement a constitutional gender-balance rule, or else face the threat of dissolution.

The mentioned rule states that no one gender can hold more than two thirds of the seats in an elected parliament.

That means that soon, at least one-third of the country’s lawmakers will be women.

Despite the constitutional rule, women currently make up less than 19% of the Kenyan National Assembly and only 27% of its Senate,  according to the Association of Media Women in Kenya.

In the recent ruling, High Court Justice, John Mutivo, stated that the parliament’s “refusal to enact the required legislation amounts to denial of the fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens” and demonstrates “total failure on the part of parliament to perform a constitutional obligation.”

Read more: Only Saudi Woman to Climb Everest Urges Country to Let Women Play Sports

Despite an upcoming parliamentary election in August 2017, if the parliament fails to follow the ruling within the prescribed 60 days, any member of the public can petition to have the current parliament dissolved early. Some parliamentarians have argued that insufficient time has been granted to take the relevant actions.

However, according to the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) Kenya, it’s not the first time this issue has been raised in the Kenyan parliament.

After the 2010 creation of the new Kenyan constitution, CREAW approached the Kenyan parliament, advocating for concrete action regarding female representation in parliament.

Kenya has traditionally been a patriarchal society, and women have generally been “excluded from decision making spaces and continuously sidelined from political spaces,” explains Mike Wachira, deputy director of CREAW, in an interview with the BBC.

“The vehicles that take people to these decision-making spaces are political parties,” he continues. “If political parties do not nominate women to run for elective positions, then it doesn’t matter how many women there are. If they are not given the opportunity to fairly compete alongside men, then there is no way they can find themselves in those decision-making spaces.”

Read more: UK Now Requires Companies to Report Gender Pay Gap

In 2012 the Kenyan Supreme Court interpreted that the parliamentary gender-balance rule was intended to be enacted gradually rather than immediately. They gave parliament until August 2015, to develop a framework and policies responding to this rule.

However, when August 2015 rolled around, the Kenyan parliament pushed back the deadline to the following year. When, in August 2016, the parliament again failed to take action, CREAW appealed to the High Court.

“The reason we did it,” said Wachira, “is because we began to see a trend where the parliament and executive have continuously demonstrated lack of goodwill or political will to put in place laws, policies, budgets, programs, that address gender inequality in Kenya.”

It’s not all bad. Kenya has taken great strides in recent years in the fight for gender equality. In 2015, at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Cabinet secretary, Anne Waiguru, reaffirmed Kenya’s commitment to achieving gender equality by 2030 and detailed some of the country’s successes in areas such as women’s education, business and political representation.

“We have more education for our girls now,” said Wangechi Wachira, Executive Director of CREAW in an interview with K25. “We have women getting into places of leadership where they were not there before. “When we were growing up, a lot of women and girls were not told that we could take up leadership positions. We’re very grateful because the Constitution of Kenya 2010 has given us that opportunity.”

However, Kenya still has a long way to go when it comes to enacting equal rights for men and women.

“[Female representation] is vital,” Mike Wachira declares emphatically. “There is no way you can be discussing a country working towards sustainable development goals, when you are not taking into consideration equality, and bringing everyone to the table so that their voices are heard.”

The recent High Court ruling is being celebrated by gender rights activists around Kenya, and KTN news reports that it has been described as “absolutely progressive” and “a huge win for the quest for gender equality”.

“I think that Kenyans are very optimistic,” said Wangechi Wachira. “They are hopeful. The women have come out in numbers. They are ready, willing and available to run [for parliament]. For us, the constitution of Kenya came to give us light. This light is what we are claiming.”

Hopefully it’s only the first of many wins in the fight for gender equality in parliament and leadership roles worldwide.