Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Women in Politics - The Irish and Kenyan cases

Women in Politics - Global Trends
Women make up less than 10% of the world's leaders. Out of the 193 countries that are members of the UN, only 21 have either a female Head of State or Government. Globally fewer than one in five members of parliament is a woman. And the 30 percent critical mass mark for women’s representation in parliament Despite decades of enfranchisement women represent a small fraction of political representatives around the world. I want to explore this issue in this post, looking at why this is important and what is being done about it, in two very different examples - Ireland and Kenya.

Why is women's participation important?
Leaving aside the fact that everyone should have the right and opportunity to be a political representative, and women make up just over 50% of the population of the world while occupying only 20% of political positions, there are a number of benefits that come with female participation in politics.

Women, as the primary caregivers in households and communities tend to advocate more strongly for children's issues, as well as women's issues. Countries with more women in parliament and government tend to have more equitable laws and social programmes. Budgets tend to better benefit women, children and families.

But even beyond that there is evidence to suggest that counties with greater gender equality (in all areas, labour, politics, education etc) have higher GNP (Gross National Product) per capita, just in the same way that women's leadership in the corporate world tends to result in improved business performance. Research shows that, in general, the greater the representation of women in parliament, the lower the level of corruption. Involving women in decision-making, especially political decision-making just makes good sense.

A quote from the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, sums it up nicely in a speech she gave in August 2012:

"When more women are leaders, decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs of society. As I have learned: When one woman is a leader it changes her. When more women are leaders, it changes politics and policies'.

What can be done?
One of the most tried and tested ways of increasing women's participation in the political arena is quotas. Quotas can take effect at three levels:

  • Political candidacy - quota systems at this level mandates that from the pool of aspirants, a certain portion must be female.
  • Nomination - quotas (either legal or voluntary) which ensure that a certain percentage of nominated candidates on a political party's ballot must be female.
  • Election - certain seats in a political body are 'reserved' and can only be filled by women.
Quota systems increase female participation in politics and governance. Of the top ranked 20 countries in terms of female representation in government, 17 of those countries use some form of quota system to ensure female participation. The case of Rwanda is a striking example. In 1995, the country ranked 24th in the world in terms of female representation. Not bad. In 2003, after introducing a quota system the country leap-frogged into 1st place.  Other countries - Argentina, Iraq, Burundi, Mozambique, South Africa have experienced similar jumps.

All evidence points to that fact that quotas work. I cannot argue with the research. And yet, as a woman I can't help but feel a bit uneasy about them. Having been brought up to believe that I am exactly the same, exactly as smart, exactly as talented, driven, motivated, as the boys sitting next to me at school and college, I find it hard to believe that I now need special treatment. That I now need a leg up. Aren't quotas discriminatory? What about the principle of merit? And what about other under-represented groups? Should there be age quotas? Quotas for different ethnicities?

But the fact remains that there are huge barriers to women's participation in the public sphere, and for me and my female peers, quotas seem to be one of the simplest ways to begin to level the playing field. It's not the only step, but they are an important first step. To be truly effective they need to be combined the improvements in education for girls and women, better access to healthcare and childcare for mothers and families.

Ireland has a poor record on women's participation in politics. In the 2011 election, only 15% of the candidates were women (86 out of 566) and similarly only 15% (25 out of 166) of those elected were women And this is the best representation that women have ever had in Dail Eireann! The situation is no better at a local level either. In Europe, Ireland ranks 20th out of the 27 countries of the EU for female political participation, and 87th out of 187 countries in a worldwide classification.

(Despite all this negativity I did find one fun fact related to Ireland when writing this blog - Mary McAleese's election to the Irish presidency in 1997 was the first time that a female president directly succeeded another female president, Mary Robinson - g'wan MacAttack and Robbo!)

The weekend before last (February 16th and 17th) the Constitutional Convention met to discuss proposed changes to the Irish Constitution. The convention comprises 66 citizens - chosen on the basis of age, sex, geography and social status, 33 politicians (from both the Republic and Northern Ireland) and chaired by Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide. They will meet throughout 2013 to discuss and vote upon proposed changes to the Irish constitution, which was drafted in 1937 (although amendments have been made in the intervening years). Among the propositions on the agenda last weekend were a number of proposals which dealt with women - their participation in politics and their place in the home were among the issues discussed.

As part of the deliberations a number of presentation were made to the delegates including research by political scientist Professor Gail McElroy on women in politics, and more specifically the role that constitutions can play. Her research dispelled, among other things, a prevailing myth that Irish voters won't vote for female candidates, and pointed to the fact that in countries that have much in common with Ireland - the USA, the UK, Canada, there is little to suggest that gender is a decisive factor in voting.

Delegates at the convention narrowly (50 no, 49 yes, 1 no opinion) rejected a proposal to amend the Constitution which would compel the State to take positive action to enhanced women's participation in politics. However a second question 'Leaving aside the Constitution, would you like to see more government action to encourage greater participation of women in politics and public life'. Other propositions related to women which were approved included a proposition that the Constitution be amended to include 'gender-inclusive' language, and an 'explicit provision on gender equality'.

So if constitutionally mandated quotas are unlikely to make an appearance within Irish legislation any time soon, what are the other ways in which women can be encouraged to enter into politics and public life?

Groups such as Women for Election and the 50 50 Group have been advocating a range of alternate ways to encourage female participation in the public sphere. According to Women for Election, research conducted on this issue identifies 5 Cs which account for women's under-representation:

  • Confidence
  • Cash
  • Candidate Selection
  • Culture
  • Childcare

In order to address some of the 'Cs' Women for Election runs programmes to 'Inspire', 'Equip' and 'Inform' women who are considering entering into political life, as well as those already involved.The sessions aim to give practical advice on fundraising, media relations and campaign management as well as developing women's 'soft skills' - confidence, resilience. Rather than focusing on lobbying and advocating for top-down change (although the group does undertake some of these activities) the focus of Women for Election is squarely on women themselves. Female mentors are identified to provide support to younger, less-experienced candidates, cross party networks of interested women are created and help to access potential donors.

In the aftermath of the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/8, the issue of re-drafting the country's constitution was revisited (having stalled in the mid 2000s). The new constitution, which was approved by 67% of voters in August 2010, enshrined within it women's rights throughout, but especially within the 'Bill of Rights' section.

Among the main advances made are:
  • Discrimination on the grounds of gender is prohibited and violence against women explicitly prohibited
  • Equality in marriage and equality in parental responsibility are both enshrined in the new constitution
  • Increased numbers of women in all decision-making organs, including devolved government is guaranteed.

In contrast to Ireland, the Kenyan constitution expressly lays out a commitment to increased gender parity in political representation, and also lays out how to do it. Below are some extracts from the Kenyan constitution to illustrate this:

Article 27 Clause 8
'the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than 2/3 of the members of the elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender'

Article 90
Compels the IEBC (Independent Electoral  and Boundaries Commission) to ensure that 'each party list comprises the appropriate number of qualified candidates and alternatives between male and female candidates

Article 97 
States that the National Assembly should consist of 'forty-seven women each elected by the registered voters of the counties, each county constituting a single member constituency'.

(These are the so-called 'Women's Rep' positions that will be voted upon on March 4th.)

These new commitments represent a significant shift in Kenyan politics. The number of women in the current Kenyan parliament is 22 or 9.8 % of the 224 members. After the election next week this will increase to at least 33% - a significant jump.

However my reservations about quotas remain. One of my concerns, in Kenya's case, is that the creation of Women's Rep positions might mean that women are tending to vie for that position and therefore less likely to compete for other roles. Only 1 of the 8 candidates for President is a woman, and only 2 of the Vice-Presidential candidates are women. From looking at the posters that line every wall of Nairobi I see few female faces - those running for Governor, County Rep, Senator are predominately men. What measures can be taken in Kenya to change this? Without the support programmes that tackle issues of culture, access, education I do not see the faces on the posters changing any time soon.

Andrea in Politics?
As a young woman who studied political science at university, and has maintained a strong interest in politics every since, I can honestly say that the thought of ever entering into public political life is one that I have never seriously entertained. And many of my female peers are the same. I believe I am much more likely to see my male colleagues enter into public life in years to come. Personally, the hurdles for me are related to the high value I put on my privacy and my personal/social life but I can't deny that my own personal confidence levels and the pervasive 'old boys club' culture are also barriers.

Cathy Newman of Channel 4 news in the U.K. was quoted in the Guardian this week as saying
'Get a lot of blokes together in one place, add copious amounts of alcohol and add the fact that home/wives/partners are are far away and it's not surprising that the atmosphere is more public school than public service.'
(Sorry I can't find the link to it anymore.)

Quotas, as we've seen in the first section do work. However they are not enough by themselves. For women's participation in politics, and public life more broadly, to be increased substantially the other Cs of confidence and culture need to be addressed alongside quotas. And neither Ireland, nor Kenya, has begun to address these in my opinion.

Sunday, February 10, 2013



Elections are due to take place here in just under three weeks, on March 4th. The last time that Kenya went to the polls in a general election - in December 2007 - the resulting dispute over the results led to violence in which 1,500 people were killed and a further 200,000 displaced from their homes. The violence in most cases, was targeted against specific ethnic groups linked to the major political parties and candidates, and as the days passed retaliatory attacks took place. As a result of the post-election violence, an international team of negotiators, which included former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, was called in to negotiate a settlement. (A previous attempt by Ghanaian President and African Union Chairman John Kufuor in early January had failed). On February 28th, 2008 the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and his main rival Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act which established a coalition government and installed Odinga as Prime Minister, a new political position. The power-sharing government managed to restore and maintain peace.

A Kikuyu-owned store in Nakuru was set on fire by Luos,
after Kikuyus had burned down Luo homes and businesses.
Photo credit: Robertio Schmidt/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images
A new constitution  

In August 2010 Kenyan went to the polls again, this time to vote for a new constitution to replace the 1969 constitution. The new constitution was approved by 67% of voters. The constitution had been in development since 2005 but internal politics within the government at the time had stalled the review and drafting process. The deadlock was only broken in 2008, when the international mediation team demanded that the re-writing of the constitution be part of the power-sharing agreement. The constitution was well received internationally as well as nationally for the human rights that it recognises and upholds, and for the measures it puts in place to curb corruption. The new constitution re-organises the Kenyan political system with one of the key changes being that of devolution. 47 new counties were created under the new constitution and given significant budgetary and administrative autonomy. It falls short of a federal system but each county will have a directly elected Governor and County Government. The upcoming election will be the first test of this new county structure.

The International Criminal Court

One of the conditions of the agreement brokered in February 2008 was that criminal prosecutions of those who incited or organised the violence would happen within two years.When by March 2010 this still had not occurred, the case was referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Cases were initially brought against six people - commonly referred to as the Ocampo Six (after ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo). These six people were William Ruto MP (former Minister for Education), Uhuru Kenyatta (deputy prime minister at the time of the pre-trial), radio host Joshua Sang, Francis Muthaura (head of the civil service at the time), Henry Kosgey MP and Mohammed Hussein Ali (postmaster general and former

In January 2012, the ICC announced that it had enough evidence to bring four of the six accused to a full trial at the Hague. The four were Ruto, Kenyatta, Sang and Muthaura. The case looks like to begin in the Hague in April of this year. Two of the accused were declared presidential candidates at the time of this announcement - Kenyatta and Ruto. They have since joined together on the one ticket, with Kenyatta vying for the position of President, and his running mate Ruto for the position of Vice-President. The ICC case, and its potential implications for the elections has been debated for months. (A really great opinion piece by Ken Opalo which delves into this in far greater detail can be found here).

Election delays - past delays and potential for future ones?

The elections were delayed, and delayed again throughout 2012. Initially scheduled to take place in August 2012, they were then pushed back to December until finally March 2013 was agreed upon by all parties, the High Court and Supreme Court, and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Incumbent politicians (for obvious reasons) and the IEBC were among those pushing for the elections to be held as late as possible. The IEBC was the body tasked with re-drawing all of the electoral boundaries, and drawing new county boundaries, as well as overseeing the running of the election.

Voter registration, having been delayed by the delay in delivery of biometric voter registration finally began in  late November last year and a total of  14.3 million Kenyans registered (geographic breakdown available here), falling short of the 18 million target (and this was even after the deadline for registration was extended).

As voters go to the polls on March 4th they will be asked to fill out six ballots for six different positions - president, county governor, MP, senator, county representative and women's representative. There is already a great deal of speculation of the effect that this large number of ballots will have on voters. Will it cause confusion? Delays?

Delays seem extremely like. According to a trial run of the election conducted by ELOG Kenya (Elections Observer Group, a collection of civil society organisations who are monitoring the elections) the average voter took 10 minutes to fill out all six ballot papers. If this is replicated across the country, there will be massive delays at polling centres, will it really be possible for 10 million + people to vote in the one day?

Presidential Run-off

The new constitution dictates that the president must receive the support of the majority of voters, i.e 50.1% of the votes. If this does not occur, then the top two candidates must compete in a run-off election. Looking at polling data in Kenya it is looking increasingly likely that neither of the top two candidates - Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga will get over 50% in the first round. As such a run-off sometime in April is highly likely. Ken Opalo, the main man crunching the numbers during this election posted his predictions on this on Friday.

The implications of a run-off are manifold. Not least of which a run-off will coincide with the time when the ICC will be calling the four suspects - including Presidential and Vice Presidential aspirants Kenyatta and Ruto- to begin their trial.

Presidential debate

Brookhouse International  School's auditorium where tomorrow night's debate will be held
For the first time in Kenya's history, two live presidential debates will be conducted, the first of which is happening tomorrow night - Monday February 11th. Six candidates will address the nation in this historic event - Kenyatta, Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and James Ole Kiyaipi - which will be broadcast on 8 TV channels, and 34 radio stations across the country, making it the biggest media event in Kenyan history. For those of you outside Kenya interested in following it, it will also be streamed online by Google/YouTube's Kenya election channel.

All eyes will be on the two main contenders - Kenyatta and Odinga. It is rare that politicians address each other, and the nation, in this way and there is a great deal of excitement and expectation surrounding the debates. The public was asked to submit questions and topics and so far 5,000 questions have been put forward. All of the facts and figures about the debate can be found in this Standard article.

Differing opinions

A good friend of mine works at the British High Commission and spent much of January 17th and 18th observing  the primary elections here. My friend, having observed a number of polling stations across the city, and having done similar work in other countries, was quite positive about what she had seen. As a result she is much more positive about what will happen in March aswell. She said there were two things in particular which impressed her.

The first was the strong police presence at polling station. She observed 2-3 officers at every station she visited, and in almost every case they were managing the, often slightly disgruntled, crowd well. Her second cause for optimism was this crowd themselves. Despite the delays and the mismanagement the crowd reacted largely peacefully. They were annoyed by the obvious lack of organisation and coordination by the various political parties and the IEBC  but this rarely spilled over into violence

Last Friday at work we had a briefing on security and our office's contigency plans. At the end of the meeting my country director asked people, in particular my Kenyan colleagues, as to what their feelings were about the elections, what did they think would happen. Most people admitted that there was a potential for the elections to go either way, but most people appeared to be 'hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst'.

Here are some of the issues/ideas raised by my colleagues that could having a bearing on what happens in March:

  • More people will be voting in Nairobi than in previous elections. Voter registration stands at about 120% in the city. The elections were traditionally held in December, a time when Kenyans travelled up-country for the Christmas holidays and so voted in their ancestral homes. What effect might this have on the elections?
  • On Friday next (the 15th) the High Court in Kenya is due to deliver the so-called 'Integrity Ruling' to determine whether Kenyatta and Ruto are eligible to contest the election under the new constitution. A case has been brought against the two men by 4 NGOs including the International Center for Policy and Conflict and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) . The groups have argued that Kenyatta and Ruto do not meet the criteria for holding public office under Chapter Six of the constitution which calls for honesty, intergrity etc to be upheld in all Kenyan public/political institutions including the parliament and presidency.
  • Rumours won't be spread during this election at count centres and other physical areas of congregations, they will be spread via Twitter, Facebook and SMS. This happened to an extent during the last election as well. How can this be regulated? (There are people trying to monitor this - see this Guardian article for more information on the Umati project).
  • The elections are a prime opportunity for both petty thugs, and terrorist elements such as Al Shabaab, to tack advantage of the unstable situation, in the first case to perpetrate crime and looting, and in the second case to carry out opportunistic terrorist attacks.
  • The presence of the police and military will be a big determinant of whether or not the elections turn violent. A strong presence by these two bodies could help quell potential unrest.

Further reading

There are many, many reports, articles, blogs opinion pieces on the Kenyan elections. For those of you interested in doing some more reading here are links to a couple of the most interesting, in my opinion. 

(The blog title comes from the most popular hashtag that is being used to tweet about the election.)