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Kenya: Affirmative Action Now


This is a political year in Kenya as that country prepares to hold its presidential election in December. But the women of Kenya say they are not waiting until the December elections. They want an affirmative action law passed to guarantee an increase in the number of women in parliament and other decision-making positions.

Beth Mugo is Kenya’s assistant minister for education. She said Kenya has fallen behind in terms of women representation in decision-making positions.

“We want an affirmative action because for a very long time now, Kenya has lagged behind, especially in the region and all over the world, for women representation, especially in parliament and councils, municipalities, where there are elections or people who hold office as a result of election,” she said.

The United Nations and the African Union have both urged nations to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels, particularly in national parliaments. Mugo said Kenyan women are not near the mandated 30 percent representation

“That is the bone of contention because even following the Beijing platform of action that was agreed by all governments that there should be affirmative action providing women leadership with at least one-third. But in Kenya, we are still under 10 percent. We are something like eight percent because we are 18 women in a parliament of 210 members of parliament,” Mugo said.

She said Kenyan women are qualified in every respect and do not want a quota system

“The Kenyan women are very, very qualified. In fact, Kenyan women are leading in the region when it comes to all areas of professionalism. We have many lawyers, we have many doctors, we have judges, we have teachers, we engineers, and we have people in government. It is not lack of qualified women; it is lack of political will on part of political parties,” she said.

Mugo said political parties in Kenya often nominate only men to winnable positions during elections, while women are often nominated in areas where the parties are weak and cannot win.

In addition, Mugo pointed to some cultural factors that she said have made it difficult for Kenyan women to get equal representation, such as the lack of economic power and the perception that women are not strong leaders.

Some international donor agencies have reportedly said they will only fund political parties depending on the number of women those parties have nominated for political seats.

But Mugo said the ruling Narc-Kenya party, which she represents, has a good record when it comes to nominating women to political positions.

“To begin with, the party I represent now has the largest number of women in parliament. So I would say it’s ready for affirmative action. So my party is not a problem because we also have affirmative action as a rule in our constitution. But the problem is, most all our party structures, the top positions are all controlled by the men,” Mugo said.

She said Kenyan women may not be able to overcome their struggle for political representation unless they have affirmative action that would guarantee them at least 70 seats out of a 210-member parliament.