Opinion

Uhuru Vs Women: Out of the frying pan into the fire

East African Women in Perspective

January 12, 2018

By Anne Kiruku
East African News Agency, Arusha

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first round of proposed Cabinet appointments released last week, which had no women on board, is a big let-down to and a bad precedent in the region.

It is indeed a shame since Kenya, being the largest economy in East Africa, should lead by example. Instead, the country has failed to implement its own constitutional requirement for upholding gender equity.

In his line-up, Kenyatta announced nine Cabinet ministers, where he appointed three new ones and retained six from the previous Cabinet. There were no women, a big blow to women everywhere who work extra hard to reach male-dominated decision-making positions.

The move clearly displayed the government’s attitude toward women: That their concerns were not a priority and that those concerns could be contemptuously ignored.

Constitutionally, the nine-member Cabinet should have included not less than three women. Clearly the two-third gender principle – which dictates that no gender should comprise more than two-thirds of public appointments – has been all but shredded by the ruling elite.

Last year, a constitutional crisis arose after the deadline for the passage of the two-thirds gender rule elapsed without a word from the government. This forced the government to propose to Parliament an extension of one year for nine constitutional Bills, among them, the two-thirds Gender Bill.

The proposal at that time by the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee to set aside a five-year deadline by amending Article 81(b) of the Constitution so that the gender principle was achieved progressively was not just insulting to Kenyan women, but it was a clear reflection too of how the current regime was lukewarm in implementing the constitution as far as women issues were concerned.

It is paramount for the current government to acknowledge and appreciate that a constitution is not just a piece of paper with well-scripted writings; no, it is a legally binding document whose every clause must be implemented to the letter.

As Uhuru finalises his Cabinet appointments, he must remember that implementing the two-thirds gender rule as enshrined in the Constitution is not a favour to Kenyan women, as politicians would probably want citizens to believe; rather, this is a right. The most moral and decent thing for the Kenyan government to do is to implement the Constitution in its appointments. This is the only way out if it indeed values the country’s women, who constitute more than half of the population.

It is unfortunate that the once-fiery civil society organisations have either become government puppets or have been silenced and intimidated altogether. The silence by these bodies in the wake of Uhuru’s recent appointments was palpable.

Former Director of Public Prosecution Keriako Tobiko is among newly appointed Cabinet secretaries.
PHOTO | DAILY NATION

The opposition party, which is still embroiled in the threatened swearing-in of its former presidential flag bearer, Raila Odinga,,has also largely remained silent over the president’s proposed cabinet.

The mere empty talk of gender equality and sealing of the ever-widening gender gap in public offices, with nothing being done, is a pain in the neck to women. Our leaders must show goodwill in sealing the gender gap that is so glaring in most public appointments.

One of the key areas where women have been short-changed is in the sharing of available resources and vacancies. Only recently, Tanzania made history by appointing a Cabinet in which more than 40 per cent were women. Thank God for Rwanda, too; the country has accorded women equal opportunities with men when it comes to leadership positions.

While Western nations boast of a long list of female heads of government, Africa can only speak of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi.

Regional leaders should not water down the gains made by women as far as the fight for gender equity is concerned. Instead of stifling the gains, regional leaders must strengthen the achievements and go a step further in helping women seal the ever-widening gender gap

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