Kenya Picking the Pace in Women’s Representation in Politics

By Treezer Michelle Atieno

Women have made significant steps in leadership globally. However, these milestones, measured in micro-steps in Sub-Saharan Africa, record a one percent increase in women’s leadership annually.

Despite this slow growth, Africa hosts the country with the highest representation of women in government in the world, as stated in the Women Political Participation Report 2021.

Rwanda has the highest proportion of women in parliament (61%) and cabinet (60%) worldwide. It is the first country worldwide with a female majority.

However, is this good news? Has gender parity been entirely achieved in Rwanda? While this progress needs celebrating, they are warning signs noted in the country’s weaker inequality indexes.

While ranked first in terms of women’s      representation in parliament, Rwanda only ranks 158th in the United Nations’ Gender Inequality Index. This index considers inequality in reproductive health, empowerment, and the labour market.

According to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of United Nations (UN) Women, Rwanda’s high representation of women in parliament could be a move to distract the attention from the country’s shift towards authoritarianism.

In Kenya, the increase in the representation of women in local and national governments has been a constant struggle.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) 2017 General Elections Report recorded that in 2017, as opposed to 2013, women won seats at all levels except the presidency; for the first time in Kenya’s history, three female governors and three female senators were elected. Women running as independent candidates were also elected for the first time. While these are positive changes, women comprised just 9.2 percent of the 1,835 elected individuals in 2017, a marginal increase from 7.7 percent in 2013.

Kenya’s general elections, held on 9 August 2022, resulted in seven women being elected into gubernatorial positions, signaling a significant improvement in women’s participation in leadership.

The 2022 election also recorded an increment in the number of women vying for elective posts, resulting in an increased number of women successfully elected.

Eight women were elected as deputy governors, 3 in the Senate, 115 as members of the County Assembly, and 29 as members of parliament.

According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), closing gender gaps in leadership is vital to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development- more so gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.

While congratulating the seven elected female governors in Kenya late last year, UNFPA emphasized the importance of county governments empowering women and protecting the most vulnerable in society.

An increase in women’s representation, especially at the county level, will eventually result in establishing legal and institutional frameworks, supporting equal participation and structuring of development programs, accounting for gender-responsive planning and budgeting.

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