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Gender debate needs more sober approach

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The question of gender representation has dominated debate in Parliament this past week.

This latest debate was triggered by a Bill moved by Majority Leader Aden Duale, who proposes that Parliament should increase the number of Nominated Women MPs to achieve at least one-third representation in the Senate and National Assembly.

The proposals are contained in the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2018, which MPs will vote on this coming week.

And that promises fireworks judging by the mood of the House in the past few days. Which is hardly surprising.

Gender debate is inherently emotive. Often times, individuals come into the conversation with fixed views and repulse different perspectives.

Constitutional provisions notwithstanding, the debate must be conducted rationally.

We have argued before that the approach that Mr Duale proposes in the Bill is inappropriate.

Currently, there are 76 women MPs in the National Assembly constituting about 22 per cent of the 349 Members and 21 in the Senate that has 67 members.

If the Bill sails through, then parties will nominate 22 women to the National Assembly and an additional two to the Senate. This has serious implications.

First, the taxpayers will have to bear a heavy burden of increased MPs.

Already, taxpayers pay huge sums of money to keep the ever insatiable MPs, who even right now are agitating for higher emoluments despite the economic challenges.

Second, it creates a tenuous arrangement in the sense that Parliament cannot have a fixed number.

It will always vary every electoral cycle depending on the number of elected women MPs.

Third, nomination of MPs is fraught with challenges.

Party leaders and their executives are notorious for using the slots to reward relatives, acquaintances and loyalists. In effect, those nominated do not serve the interest of the targeted constituencies.

Thus the nominations do not achieve the cause of democracy.

Fourth is the cost of keeping a heavy Parliament.

Currently, the debate in public domain is that we are over-represented.

With the Senate, National Assembly, county government and County Assemblies, the country is groaning under the yoke of leadership.

Paradoxically, there is no commensurate returns from the leadership. This is the reason there has been strident calls for constitutional changes to reduce the number of legislators and ward representatives.

Resolving the gender imbalance must start at the party level.

They must organise themselves in such a manner that they ensure women secure at least a third of the seats at the primaries. Second, they should give priority to women for the 12 slots reserved for Nominated MPs. The argument we are making is that we need a better strategy for achieving the gender rule instead of ad hoc and tokenistic propositions that are unpredictable and unsustainable.

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