Gender and Constitution-Making in Kenya 1/02

Heinrich Böll Stiftung
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9966 9772 1 x

Seeking Guarantees of Equality

When the independence constitution was negotiated in London, there was only one woman in the delegation. It is not surprising that women’s issues were completely ignored in that Constitution, and women continued to be discriminated against in public and private laws.
Numerous amendments to the Constitution have done little to improve the situation of women. It is therefore necessary that the present review should accord the highest importance to gender issues. Fortunately, the Constitution of Kenya Review Act emphasises the participation of women in the review process and commits the commission and other organs of review to ensuring constitutional
provisions for gender equity and gender parity.

The Act requires all organs of review to ensure the process:

  • accommodates the diversity of Kenya, including gender, and the disadvantaged
  • facilitates participation of all in generating and debating proposals to alter the constitution
  • is guided by respect for the universal principles of human rights, gender equity, and democracy (references to democracy have been construed to include the full inclusion of women).

These principles are reflected in the composition of the organs of review. In composing the commission, the National Assembly has to maintain the principle of gender equity- at least six commissioners out of twenty-seven had to be women. In reality, seven were appointed.

As only 25 per cent of the commission, women have no reason to rejoice. Still, it represents better female participation than in other public bodies.

As regards the membership of the National Constitutional Conference, the commission is bound to accord priority to gender equity, but the Act specifically requires, as a minimum:

  • at least one of the three representatives from each country be a woman; and
  • representation of women’s organisations as part of civil society. 

The commission has facilitated the full participation of women in the process. The commission has encouraged women to organise meetings throughout the country to discuss the process and constitutional reform. It has assisted women’s organisations to conduct civic education.

It held a public workshop on gender issues for constitutional reform, to which all leading women’s organisations were invited, and at which a number of local and overseas experts made representations. Women have turned up in big numbers in most of the public meetings. More submissions (most of which are excellent) have been received by the commission from women’s organisations than any other sector.
Women have been so much more energetic than men that the process so far can truly be described as ‘women driven’!