By Amina Adhan Ahmed
While women’s rights have been sluggishly progressive in most parts of the world, gender equality is more elusive as time goes by. The biggest impediment to gender parity remains in patriarchal cultures that shape all facets of life. While some argue that women are now on par with men in regards to access to social, economic and political rights (citing affirmative action as a cause), recent events in the Kenyan parliament refute that claim.
Women legislators walked out of Kenya’s parliament in protest after legislators passed a polygamy law that did not necessitate a man to seek consent of his first wife before marrying another. The law reveals a rotten underbelly of Kenya’s political scene. The policy overwhelmingly supported by male legislators indicates power relations between the sexes. Women are not considered partners in marriage but inferiors. While the quota system improved access, it has been grueling for women to effectively participate in policy making, a factor attributed to male domination in policymaking institutions as evidenced by the regressive policies passed. The Matrimonial Property Act of 2013 was passed with regressive amendments that overturned the 50-50 sharing of matrimonial property after dissolution of marriage and based it on “contribution”. While the contribution clause entails both monetary and non-monetary forms, the burden of proof falls on women. This disadvantages the majority of women whose lives revolve around informal labor such as domestic chores and child rearing.
The entrance to Kenya's parliament. Image via Wikimedia.
Affirmative action for women in and of itself has faced strong criticism by those who believe that women have an equal opportunity to compete with men. The two thirds gender rule enshrined in article 27(8) of the constitution of Kenya states “that not more than two thirds of members in elective or appointive positions are of the same gender” and has been viewed as imposing women’s leadership by opponents of affirmative action. A Kenyan Member of Parliament (MP) was recently quoted as saying “we should not be donating seats to women, positions reserved for women should be scrapped” as a proposal to cut down on Kenya’s overly inflated wage bill and bloated representation that arose with the devolved system of government.
Dorothy Kweyu, an editor of Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, articulates the notion that patriarchy has been overcome in an article on women leadership. She cites the fact that the number of girls in primary and secondary schools has risen since independence and goes on to argue that women are well educated and therefore the two thirds gender rule is a scheme for women to gain easy access to leadership positions and does not promote substantial gains for all women. She further states that gender equality is difficult because it seeks to achieve 50% representation in politics, which she claims creates an “us vs. them” mentality.