NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Buoyed by record gains in last month’s elections, Kenyan activists say they hope the nation’s top court will enforce women’s right to better political representation, following a surprise decision to nullify the presidential election.
Female Kenyan lawyers have asked the High Court to declare the nation’s new parliament illegal, saying it violates a constitutional requirement that one third of its members be female.
Kenya’s highest court made history in Africa last week by ordering a re-run of its presidential election, saying President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory was undermined by irregularities.
Kenyan women say they see the ruling as an opportunity, having lobbied for years for better political representation, which is the lowest in East Africa.
“We hope to get a favorable outcome, seeing what came out of the Supreme Court,” Josephine Mongare, chairwoman of the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A fifth of Kenya’s lawmakers are women, the same proportion as in Saudi Arabia, and many women shy away from running for office because of violence, rigging and cronyism.
Only 16 percent of August’s 10,910 candidates were women, the electoral board said.
“Women need to dig in their heels and compete with men,” said Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at United States International University-Africa.
“Many have competed and beat their male counterparts. All they need is more self-belief.”
Women’s hopes were raised when the 2010 constitution guaranteed them a third of seats in all political offices, but the male-dominated assembly has repeatedly frustrated efforts to pass a law to enact the quota.
In March, the High Court gave parliament a 60-day ultimatum that expired just over a month before the polls to ensure a third of lawmakers are women or face dissolution.
Parliament was disbanded for the election without enacting the court orders.
“We hope the court will compel parliament further to make this a reality,” Mongare said.
Women do have a record-breaking 26 percent of seats in Kenya’s new parliament, up from 19 percent in 2013.
And for the first time, three women won seats as senators and another three as governors. In 2013, men held all these posts.
“We hope that these firsts will show women that if women are given a little push, they can ably compete with men and beat them,” said Joyce Laboso, one of the new female governors.
Women running for office are often undermined by political parties that favor rich, well-connected men and turn a blind eye to violence, experts say.
“Many (women) lost out during the primaries, even though some were the people’s favorite candidates,” said Daisy Amdany, executive director of Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust, a lobby group.
Politician Millie Odhiambo’s bodyguard was struck and killed by an opponent’s car during the April primaries, and another candidate’s car was shot at while she was inside.
Reporting by Daniel Wesangula; Editing by Katy Migiro and Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.