Kenya is staring at a constitutional crisis following fears that Parliament may be dissolved in June if it fails to enact a gender balance legislation.
This follows a High Court ruling that found the National Assembly and the Senate guilty of failing to enact the legislation meant to address this possibility.
Justice John Mativo ordered Parliament and the Attorney-General to ensure the gender rule is operational within 60 days to protect women’s rights.
The deadline elapsed on August 27, 2016 after attempts by Parliament to meet the constitutional requirement were frustrated by lack of quorum to pass the bill after dissatisfied legislators opted to stay away.
Even attempts by the Speakers of both Houses to use their discretionary powers to postpone voting on the Bill did not help. The lawmakers returned on the voting day more divided.
In some instances, even women legislators meant to benefit from the Bill were missing in action during that crucial moment.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga have also unsuccessfully tried to rally their members in Parliament to support gender rule law.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr says lack of political goodwill is behind the failure to implement the gender rule.
“What the judge said is in the Constitution but if we dissolve the 11th Parliament, you will not have solved the crisis,” Mr Kilonzo Jr said.
He said that whereas the Constitution is clear on the need for affirmative action to bridge the gender equity gap, appropriate measures have not been put in place to actualise the principle.
Nyeri County Woman Representative Priscilla Nyokabi said the court’s ruling was a step in the right direction.
She said the Speaker can exercise his powers and Standing Orders to fast-track the process.
National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale has however dismissed the court’s ruling, saying MPs cannot be blackmailed on how to legislate.
“We are telling the great women of Kenya to vote for them on August 8. It is not for the courts to fill this House,” said Mr Duale.
Women, being the majority of the voters, have been accused of being their own enemies following concerns that few vote for their own.
Women currently represent only about 20 per cent of Parliament and 33 per cent of county assemblies. Out of 1,450 seats in county assemblies, only 80 women were elected while the rest were nominated.
At the national level, only 16 women were elected to the National Assembly, 47 were elected on special Woman Rep seats while five were nominated for special interest seats.