This article by Miriam Frost is published by Democracy in Africa (DIA). Here is an excerpt:
On 9 August, Kenyans went to the polls for landmark general elections that featured the highest ever number of women candidates, resulting in a record 26 women elected as members of parliament. This was an increase from 23 women elected to parliament in 2017.
But assessing advancements for women’s political participation in Kenya is more complicated than just counting women. Kenya’s electoral and political processes include several temporary special measures, including a two-thirds gender rule for all political positions and reserved legislative seats for women, termed Woman Representative positions, which make up 47 out of the 337 seats in parliament. On the surface, this provision seems like a guaranteed way to increase women’s political representation and ensure women have a voice in and influence over the politics of their country – although women make up over 50 percent of the Kenyan population, they held only 23 percent of seats in the last parliament, including the 47 Woman Representative seats. However, the creation of additional reserved seats for women in legislative bodies can produce further unintended consequences for women by playing into and replicating rather than challenging patriarchal norms, leading to harmful long-term effects for women’s political participation. Instead, governments across the continent should focus on initiatives that make existing structures more inclusive and representative of the diversity of citizens.
Reserved seats for women in parliament are not a new initiative (Kenya’s system dates to 2010), though they have recently gained prominence through several successful or failed attempts at legislation on the continent. Benin’s January 2023 legislative elections will see the election of 24 women to new seats in the National Assembly stemming from a 2019 constitutional amendment. Tanzania and Uganda, among others, have also implemented some form of reserved seats for women in their parliaments. Other countries have not been as successful. In March, Nigerian lawmakers voted down a suite of five women-focused amendments to the constitution, including one that would have created additional seats reserved for women for each state in Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives. In February, a bill that would have created sixteen additional seats reserved for women in the Gambia’s National Assembly did not pass due to a lack of quorum.
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