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Why gender Bill should be endorsed

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By ANNE WAIGURU
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The current trend on women’s inclusion in political leadership is very inspiring.

At both the regional and global levels, voters are favouring women candidates in elections and this is well-deserved.

In the recent US mid-term elections, history was made.

A record 100 women won seats with several historic firsts.

The states of Minnesota and Michigan elected the first Muslim women to the US Congress.

Closer home, Ethiopia raised the bar for the region by electing its first female president, Ms Sahle Work Zewde.

It also appointed the first female head of the Judiciary.

The increasing inclusion of women into high political office demonstrates a growing affirmation that women can be trusted by voters to deliver on leadership priorities.

For a country that is often lauded as East Africa’s leading socio-economic hub, Kenya’s struggle with the Affirmative Action Bill to bridge the gender disparity remains peculiar. Kenya ranks below Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi when it comes to gender-balanced representation in politics.

It is the only country in East Africa yet to establish an affirmative action for gender representation in Parliament.

The number of women elected into office is not representative of the number that votes. One may question if it is the case that voters believe that women do not make able leaders?

Do poll outcomes that lead to the under representation of the female gender speak to flaws in the electoral process, or is it a reflection of the stereotypical realities that hinder women from leadership?

In my view, equality of opportunities versus equality of outcomes is the real issue.

Within our social constructs, especially in non-urban contexts, girls often do not benefit from the same opportunities as boys due to both nature and nurture.

While both boys and girls may have equal access to education, boys tend to have more chances to apply themselves to studies.

Girls will often be required to help with household chores and familial obligations and focus less on education.

By nature, girls are more likely to miss school during their menstrual periods, especially among rural, low income set-ups.

The Affirmative Action Bill, therefore, is an important instrument in resolving this gender inequity.

Secondly, to argue that enacting the Gender Bill will add to the country’s wage bill and increase the debt burden is inaccurate.

No one complains that women work just as hard as men and in some cases twice as hard as men, overcoming great hardships in order to supplement household incomes.

This argument takes for granted that while women are important contributors to the country’s GDP as small traders, farmers and professionals, when it comes down to the practicalities of women accessing political leadership, women’s contribution is largely disregarded or discouraged.

It must be appreciated by both sides of the gender divide that it is precisely these disparities that the Bill on affirmative action will help resolve.

As we encourage more women to run for elective positions we also must acknowledge that they do not have certain advantages that men do.

For example, women are more likely to lack time and opportunity to invest towards political outcomes given the demands of family life and roles within the home.

Consequently, their ascent to office and ability to sustain positions of power and influence are vulnerable.

It is such inequalities that Bills on affirmative action will hopefully seek to remedy.

Therefore, arguments about wage bills should not be countenanced.

Kenya, as one of the leading democracies in Africa, together with its strategic advantages in the region, cannot afford to lead from the second chair when it comes to women’s representation in political leadership.

On having more women represented in elective seats and appointed positions, Kenya must step up.

The Kenya Amendment Bill of 2018 is a very good place to start helping the nation to realise the right to gender equality.

The political procrastination on enabling Article 81 (b) of the Constitution must be ended so that we can get on with the important business of implementing the gender agenda in leadership.

Therefore, as we seek to address the challenges of equality of opportunities, affirmative action is critical to realising gender balance.

Ms Waiguru is the Governor Kirinyaga County, and vice-chair of the Council of Governors

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