Just what do Women Representatives do?
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi last week proposed legislation to scrap women representative seats and nominated MPs, catching everyone off-guard.
This comes barely weeks after Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chair, Samuel Chepkonga, introduced a Bill in Parliament to indefinitely postpone the two-thirds gender rule constitutional requirement, following the looming August 27 deadline as directed by Supreme Court (MPs have since agreed to extend the deadline to next year).
But as this debate rages, some political observers are now questioning the role of nominated leaders and women representatives, saying most of them have nothing to show for their two years in office.
Some of the women leaders The Nairobian spoke to, including Priscillah Nyokabi, Gladys Wanga, Beatrice Elachi, Zeinab Chidzuga and their male nominated colleague MP Isaac Mwaura, however defended their record, saying most of their achievements have not been featured in the media.
The women leaders pointed out that since they lack a fund similar to the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to initiate development projects, they are disadvantaged and have no capacity to bring about meaningful change.
“We are dismissed because we don’t have a development kitty. We have struggled in the face of fierce resistance, but I am optimistic that with the affirmative action development fund, we shall be able to make tangible impact,’’ said Gladys Wanga, the Homa Bay Women’s Rep.
Nominated Senator and Majority Chief Whip, Beatrice Elachi, concurs. She says that, “Let every member, be they nominated or elected, have a kitty. We are also MPs. We legislate and participate in debates and budget making. It is either we are equal or not. If CDF will be retained, let it accommodate all of us.”
The women leaders maintain that as new entrants in the political arena, they cannot compete actively in Parliament with their male colleagues, who have been at it for ages. They accuse those making the comparisons of being unfair.
“People are comparing the incomparable. We have been in the scene for only two years. It will take time for us to reach that level because one has to mature with time. It is also not easy to catch the Speaker’s eye,’’ claimed Nyokabi.
Cyprian Nyamwamu, the director Future of Kenya Foundation, says that women deserve affirmative action because they are disadvantaged. He notes that many women are married away from their places of birth, which would otherwise be their strongholds were they to engage in elective politics.
“Marriage is the greatest disadvantage for women. They are rejected as ‘strangers’ in constituencies where they are married and rejected where they were born because Africans frown upon single women. Those who offer themselves for leadership are treated with hostility,’’ observes Nyamwamu.
He further notes that women have not been given key leadership positions like chairing parliamentary committees or controlling parties and that they lack financial muscle to mount serious campaigns.
“The people we know from bunge are normally the leaders of majority and minority. But Nyokabi who is the vice chair of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee and Sabina Chege of the Education Committee are visible and vocal. This shows that when women are given positions of authority, they shine,’’ he adds.
Nyokabi agrees with Nyamwamu. She explains that, “We play an important role in Parliament, but given influential titles in the National Assembly, most of us only get an opportunity to speak from 5pm after seasoned MPs have made their contributions. We also speak in committees, but the media somehow prefers to report what our senior male colleagues say.”
What women leaders have probably not come to terms with is that they are held to a higher moral standard than male politicians. Unfortunately, the unbecoming and scandalous conduct of a couple of women representatives seems to have overshadowed the performance of those who are doing a good job.
Nyamwamu says that it is important that the performance of men in and outside the National Assembly also be audited. “Why is no one talking about the deplorable quality of male MPs in Parliament?’’ Nyamwamu asked.