The Institute for Security Studies is a regional human security policy think tank with an exclusive focus on Africa. As a leading African human security research institution, the institute is guided by a broad approach to security reflective of the changing nature and origin of threats to human development.
Kenyan society, like that of many other countries, is notoriously patriarchal. Structural inequalities perpetuated by this value system have resulted in gender stereotypes that have shaped and encumbered women’s representation and participation in governance and key decision-making structures. However, efforts to reverse these inequalities seem to be gaining some traction.
The Kenya Defence Forces Bill 2012 passed in parliament last week, for example, mentions the importance of gender equality and human rights in line with the Constitution, yet there is a need to go further and ensure that the ensuing policies and strategies are transformative in the enrolment, training and retention of women.
Progress made in Kenya in this regard is in no small measure attributable to the current (2010) Constitution, which has entrenched the need for gender mainstreaming, particularly in governance spaces. Article 27 of the Constitution calls for, among others, affirmative action programmes and policies for redressing past discrimination based on gender, as well as for women’s representation in at least a third of all elective and appointive bodies. Laudable determination from men and especially women in agitating for transformation, and numerous other policy and legislative frameworks for achieving gender equality, have pushed these efforts forward. Nevertheless, policies and practices aimed at this realisation are bringing with them opportunities, challenges and glaring failures, particularly in the security sector.
The political participation of Kenyan women is marginal. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that women are marginally represented in senior leadership positions. Out of the 222 members of parliament, only 22 are women (10%). They also make up less than 10% of top management positions in local government. Despite its regional status, Kenya also comparatively lags behind its East African Community (EAC) counterparts. Statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union show that Rwanda leads the region (and the world) in the representation of women, with 56,3% women in the lower house and 38,5% in the senate; followed by Tanzania (36%), Uganda (35%) and Burundi at 30.5%.
The role of parliament in legislative, budgetary and oversight control is crucial to the democratic governance of the security sector as it is its responsibility to ensure that policies reflect the security needs of all genders. In many developing countries though, most members of parliament lack the requisite capacity for exercising proper oversight over the security sector. Double jeopardy then arises when parliamentary committees concerned with security matters fail to ensure equity in the participation and representation of women. In Kenya women are grossly underrepresented in parliamentary committees related to the security sector, with statistics from the Parliament of the Republic of Kenya Website in April 2012 showing that some committees have few or no women representatives. The Justice and Legal Affairs Committee has 3 women out of 10 members (30%), but the Defence and Foreign Relations Committee (dealing with oversight of the defence sector), as well as the Administration and National Security Committee (concerned with the policing sector) and the Finance, Planning and Trade Committee all have no women out of a total of 10 members. The Committee on Equal Opportunity has 1 woman out of a total of 9 (11%) and the Budget Committee also has no women out of a membership of 14.
The deterrent and enforcement function of the judiciary in ensuring non-violation of fundamental human rights within the security sector is critical. The recent nullification of the presidential appointments of 47 County Commissioners (meant to oversee security administration within counties, among other duties) by the High Court, due to the failure by the executive to ensure gender equality in the appointments, is a case in point. The Constitution (Article 27) provides that no more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender. In this instance only 10 of the 47 Commissioners appointed were women. Within the policing sector women are also underrepresented, constituting approximately 11% out of a total of 73 000 police service personnel. Current police reforms within this sector should thus enhance retention of women by opening up operational and institutional blockages for women’s participation. The launch earlier this month of the National Women’s Police Association is a commendable starting point for women police officers to articulate concerns in line with the Constitution and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Gender, Peace and Security, as well as other regional instruments on gender equality.
Indeed, the resolve demonstrated thus far for redressing and preventing previous gender biases and taking concrete and supportive action towards transforming the security sector, especially in the recruitment, training and retention of women in security sector institutions, needs tightening up. The implementation of action plans that can ensure gender parity is attained also needs to be kept up and government must ensure that budgetary allocations towards gender-mainstreaming strategies are adequate.
While increasing the representation of women in terms of numbers in key decision-making processes in Kenya may not necessarily translate into the articulation of women’s security needs due to, among others, the fact that those in decision-making positions may not necessarily wish to articulate feminist agendas, women’s increased representation nonetheless presents a good starting point in transforming the security sector. In addition, leadership capacity for women in decision-making structures within the security sector may be curtailed by shortages in skills and funding even though their numbers are increased. Nevertheless, it is important to increase women’s ability to effectively engage and participate in security sector-related issues and processes. In addition, the capacity (resources and skills) of commissions or committees concerned with security and gender equality matters should be enhanced.
Kenya has a long way to go before women are adequately empowered to transform security sector institutions to reflect equity in their structures. This will be overcome by influencing ideological and historically entrenched discriminatory and cultural biases within these sectors. In addition, if the country is to achieve Millennium Development Goal 3 targets for eliminating gender disparity in representation, education, employment and wages, government should demonstrate its resolve by ensuring that gender-mainstreaming policies and strategies are well resourced, properly implemented, evaluated and monitored. This will further ensure that their impact is sustainable and visible. This resolve will also go a long way in ensuring that development goals articulated in Kenya’s Vision 2030 are equitably achieved and benefits shared by both women and men, especially those who have been persistently marginalised, particularly the poor, disabled and those in rural communities.
The recently constituted Commission on Gender Equality should also ensure the deliberate articulation of gender-mainstreaming strategies by security sector actors, especially the police and defence sectors, and confirm that these strategies are clearly articulated and not merely implied in policies and action plans.
Written by Irene Ndungu, Consultant, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division