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In Kenya a county woman representative is a member of the Kenya National Assembly who represents one of the 47 counties in a seat reserved for female members. The county woman representatives serve in the national assembly alongside the 290 members elected from the constituencies, 12 nominated members and the Speaker of the National Assembly.
History of County woman representative in Kenya
The role of women’s representative was created by the Constitution of Kenya that was adopted in a referendum in 2010 in order to increase the representation of women in parliament. Prior to the 2010 constitution there were fewer than 20 female members of the Kenyan parliament.The first representatives were elected in the 2013 Kenyan general election.
The woman representatives are elected by all registered voters in the county they represent, not only female voters. In 2019 the Committee on Implementation and Oversight of the Constitution proposed abolishing the role after the next general election.
While the Constitution of Kenya requires that no more than two thirds of the National Assembly or the Senate be of the same gender, this requirement has not been met. In 2017 the High Court ruled that the two houses had failed to perform their constitutional obligation. Despite attempts to introduce new legislation to ensure increased representation of women in parliament this situation has not been resolved.
In addition to the 47 designated woman representatives, at the 2017 Kenyan general election 23 women were elected to represent the constituency seats and 5 women were nominated to represent the appointed seats. Consequently, a total of 75 women serve in the National Assembly in the 12th Parliament of Kenya, comprising 21% of the members of the assembly.
They have been labelled inept, complacent and ‘flower girls’ for male MPs in parliament.
To others, they are wasting taxpayers money and they do not understand their roles in parliament. But what do women representatives do?
The Position Of Women Representatives In Kenya
Article 97 of the Kenyan 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 the 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.
Therefore, since they represent women, the correct way to refer to them in the singular is “Women’s Representative” or “Woman County Representative” since they represent the county, and not ‘Woman Representative’.
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 marginalised group (Article 100).
Women representatives should promote the interests of women and girls within their counties and the country at large. 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 gap of gender inequality.
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 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 should 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 outcome and impact on the beneficiaries (women and girls).
The Role Of Women Representatives In Kenya Guarantees Equality For Women
However, the role of women representatives in Kenya should not (necessarily) involve providing or meeting immediate needs for women and girls. That’s not what the law intended.
They should advocate and work for long-term policy interventions to find solutions to challenges facing women and girls. Using the above example, rather than donate sanitary pads, they should have the government provide them for all school-going girls.
By playing their role efficiently, women representatives can promote gender equality and equity.
Their role does not also include the management of funds. Parliament budgets for the Affirmative Action Social Development Fund for women representatives. It is similar to the Constituency Development Fund.
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.
The Kenyan Constitution emphasises the separation of powers between the organs of national and county governments. Therefore, 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 where no more than two-thirds of the MPs should be of the same gender.
The other roles of women representatives in Kenya as Members of Parliament are in Article 95 of the Constitution. The roles 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 function and role of women representatives in Kenya is the representation, legislation and oversight (and budget allocation).
Women representatives serve for a fixed term of five years, but they are eligible for re-election as many times as possible since there are no term limits for MPs in Kenya.
How To Measure The Performance Of Women Representatives
First, look at their contributions during plenary sessions (through the Hansard) in Parliament and also their contributions to parliamentary committee meetings. The Hansard Recordings are easier to get (from mzalendo.com) but the committee reports are difficult to obtain because Kenya’s committees are very opaque.
The contributions can be in terms of how many times they have spoken before the house (and the important points they have raised) the bills and motions they have sponsored, et cetera.
Mzalendo’s website (at mzalendo.com)contains more information about the Women Representatives (and other MPs), including their profiles.
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.