The ongoing clamour in Kenya to ensure the 30 per cent threshold in parliamentary gender representation may well have been avoided during the making of the new Constitution. And, predictably, Rwanda has not failed mention in the ongoing debate for her strides on gender issues.
Kenya is the odd one out among the Partner States in the East African Community (EAC). According to the current Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) rankings, Kenya stands at position 105 globally with a dismal 9.8 per cent women representation in Parliament.
Rwanda leads the world in first position with 56.3 per cent. Tanzania is in position 15 with 36 percent; Uganda in position 16 with 34.9 per cent, and Burundi position 21 globally with 32.1 per cent.
The new Kenyan Constitution aims to address the disparity. At issue, however, is how to implement the principle of gender balance as currently provided in the Constitution without contravening the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights not only provides for gender balance, but that every qualified individual has a right to stand for an elective post as well as the right to vote for the candidate of his or her choice.
Though straight forward, in this provision lies unanticipated impracticality on how to elect Members of Parliament (MPs) for the Lower House and still maintain gender balance in the new bi-camera National Assembly come 2012 General Elections.
The Constitution provides for 290 constituencies, from which will be drawn the MPs for the Lower House. Members of the Senate, or Upper House, will be drawn from the 47 counties, two representatives from each county, a man and a woman.
The Constitution is however not clear how gender balance will be achieved in the Lower House.
To attain the 30 per cent threshold, the initial proposal presented before the Cabinet was to divide the 290 constituencies into four clusters. A random method would then be applied to pick constituencies where women only would vie to be elected MP from one cluster on a rotational basis.
Were this to be implemented, it could have been deemed unconstitutional insofar as it would bar some candidates from vying in their constituencies of choice, and in denying voters their candidates of choice.
As the debate rages in Kenya on how best to go about it, a committee comprising nine Government Ministers has since been tasked to come up with a workable formula to actualise the gender principle without violating the Bill of Rights. The committee will also look at examples from other countries.
But how have Kenya’s Partner States in the EAC done it?
They Partner States have employed various shades of quota mechanisms, or proportional representation, of which there three main systems.
The first is a constitutional quota employed by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. The three countries have provisions in their Constitutions reserving seats in parliament for women.
Tanzania has employed the second system, which applies election law quotas. Provisions are written into national legislation. Burundi has applied this as well.
The third is political party quotas, where parties have adopted internal rules to include a certain percentage of women candidates for office. In addition to the constitutional quota, the political party quota is what has enabled Rwanda beat the world.
Kenya’s electoral model is based on the concept of “first past the post”, where individual candidates battle it out for the most votes. This works against the women, not only in Kenya, but in much of the world where socio-cultural environment is heavily patriarchal.