Hope for Change as Kenya Court Rules One-third of MPs Must Be Women

Kenyan activists on Monday welcomed a High Court ruling giving parliament 60 days to ensure a third of lawmakers are women or face dissolution.

The ruling follows a lengthy struggle to increase women’s political representation in the patriarchal society.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution guarantees women a third of seats in parliament, but its male-dominated assembly has repeatedly frustrated efforts to pass legislation needed to enact the quota.

“The ruling is good for women who, because of patriarchal cultural backgrounds, cannot effectively compete with men,” Josephine Mongare, chairwoman of the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “This is the nearest we have come to the two-thirds constitutional requirement.”

Women vying for office in Kenya frequently face violence and intimidation in a country where women in politics are frowned upon. They also often lack the political clout and money to get nominated by the major parties.

Kenya, which heads to the polls in August, has East Africa’s lowest representation of women in parliament at 19 percent, compared to 61 percent in Rwanda and 38 percent in Ethiopia, the Geneva-based International Parliamentary Union says.

Three previous attempts to get the bill passed have failed, with male lawmakers walking out of the chamber in May when it was time to vote.

Last week’s High Court ruling came after several rights groups sued Kenya’s parliamentary speakers and attorney general for missing a 2016 deadline to implement the law.

“It is disheartening that none of the political players is taking any action,” said Patricia Nyaundi, chief executive of the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, one of the groups behind the case.

“One would hope that the president and the leader of opposition would prevail upon their members to enact the law,” she added.

But Nairobi-based constitutional lawyer Patrick Wanyama said the court victory may be too late to make a difference.

The 60-day ultimatum expires in late May, just over a month before parliament dissolves for August elections.

“We are trying to solve a political problem using the law,” he said, as male politicians remain steadfastly opposed to the quota for women. “Sometimes this does not work.”

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