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As Kenyans head to the polls on 4th March 2013 in highly anticipated and closely watched presidential elections, there is a world-wide call for the elections to not only be fair but peaceful. This is following the last elections in 2007 that were very volatile and highly divisive along ethnic lines and led to post election violence where more than 1200 people lost their lives,[i] around 600,000 were internally displaced[ii] and sexual and gender violence was perpetuated against women and girls. Kenya is voting under a new constitution promulgated in 2010 after a referendum. These elections are therefore a litmus test on how far Kenya has come since the 2007 elections and the direction that the country is headed, which will have an impact on the whole East African region.

An estimated 20,000 domestic observers and 1000 international observers are said to be observing these elections.[iii] According to the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC), there are 14,352,545 registered voters including 2637 in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.[iv]

The Presidential Elections:

Eight candidates are contesting for the president’s seat including one woman, Martha Karua of the NARC Party. The main front runners are Raila Odinga the Prime Minister and Uhuru Kenyatta, the Deputy Prime Minister. There are some contentious issues however, that make this presidential election like no other; one of the frontrunner presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, having been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity due to their involvement in the violence post 2007 elections.[v] The two are due in the Hague for trial after the presidential elections. In the event that Uhuru becomes president, then Kenya would have a president and vice president ruling in absentia, away at the Hague on criminal charges. Also, incase no presidential candidate obtains a majority of the vote or does not receive 25 percent in at least 24 counties, a second round of elections will be held. April 11th has been set as a date for a run-off incase no winner emerges on March 4th.

Parliamentary Elections:

Kenyans will also be voting in parliamentary elections on March 4th, under the new constitution adopted in August 2010 which provides for a bicameral parliament comprising an enlarged 350 member National Assembly and a new 68 member Senate.[vi] Before the new Constitution, in the last elections in 2007, Kenya had a unicameral parliament with 224 members.[vii]

Women’s Political Representation

Women continue to be underrepresented in Kenya’s politics. This is despite the constitutional quotas, which put women’s political representation in Kenya at 9.8 percent compared to Rwanda’s 56 percent, South Africa’s 42 percent, Tanzania’s 36 percent and Uganda’s 35%.[viii] The new Kenya Constitution of 2010 requires that a women’s representative be elected in each of Kenya’s 47 counties during the current elections.[ix] 156 women will stand against men for the parliamentary seats from 269 who contested in 2007. 300 will bid for the 47 seats reserved for women representatives for each county. This will however guarantee women only 16 percent of the overall seats in the chamber.[x] The Constitution provides for affirmative action but lack of political will of the last parliament led to its failure of implementing these constitutional guarantees.

Kenya is a highly patriarchal society and as a result women are considered as inferior to men. Consequently, when it comes to political representation, women are at a disadvantage and are subject to ridicule in society when they run for public office. The National Gender and Equality Commission Chairperson Winnie Lichuma has stated that the environment for women in the political field is hostile, giving undue advantage to their male counter-parts. That the violence against them is both physical and psychological.[xi] Given the violence that women faced during the violence after the 2007 elections, the country is under tight scrutiny to ensure that it does not happen again. The United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, has called on Kenyan authorities to ensure the protection of civilians especially women and girls, recalling that thousands of case of rape and other forms of sexual assault were documented during the violence that followed the 2007 elections.[xii]

Although there is a female presidential candidate contesting in these elections, Martha Karua, the latest opinion polls show that she has only 1-2 percent of the vote, a sign that Kenyan voters are still not ready to depart from the old-boys-club style of politics that has defined Kenya’s political scene since independence.[xiii]  Laws exist that provide for women’s rights in Kenya, but there is a lack of political will to implement them. Cultural perceptions that women are lesser than men are also a problem and education addressing these socio-cultural issues is needed across all borders, and sexes. According to Pauline Kamau, the Executive Director of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, children must be taught to respect women’s rights and laws must be applied.[xiv]

Conclusion:

The Kenya elections are being closely watched not only by Kenyans, but East Africa as a region and the whole international community with the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon calling for peaceful elections,[xv] as well the presence of both national and international observers in the country. The fact that there is a woman presidential aspirant, even though not projected to win the elections, is a major step in breaking the glass ceiling about women political representation in Kenya. This, coupled with the seats reserved for women, hopefully is the beginning of a new and progressive trend in women political participation in the East African nation. There are many contentious issues in these elections and thus the subsequent results are highly anticipated for they will shape a future not only for Kenya but the East African region as a whole.

 

 

Women Political Participation statistics[xvi]

Women Political Participation

As of 2007

As of 2013

Women presidential candidates

0

1/8

Women parliamentary candidates

269/2547

156

Women Members of parliament.

22/224 (9.82%)

 

 



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