It is hard not to feel like no matter the kind of progress we achieve as a continent, we will continue to struggle with patriarchal ideas that try to sideline and alienate women and minorities from participating in governance. Even when women and minorities are allowed to participate, it feels like the people in charge only pretend to understand why spaces need to be created for minorities in the first place.
As part of the Kenyan government’s efforts to increase the participation of women in governance, it instituted a number of changes to its legislature, splitting it into a National Assembly and a Senate, both representing the country’s 47 councils. Part of this new arrangement reserves one National Assembly seat from each of its 47 counties for a woman representative. and 12 specific seats when its representatives specifically represent women, youth and marginalized minorities. It is laughable that the Kenyan parliament considers itself progressive in light of the events at the National Assembly this week.
MP Zulekha Hassan, a representative of the Kwale county in Southern Kenya came to parliamentary proceedings Wednesday with her 5 month old baby. This is the first time Zulekha had done this, and clearly did so because circumstances had forbade her from making other arrangements to ensure her child was cared for while she performed her duties in parliament. However, the parliament refused to proceed as long as the baby was within their chambers, holding up the event for half an hour. Zulekha rightfully refused to allow her fellow parliamentarians brand her actions as wrong or disrespectful to the assembly. Eventually the presiding speaker waded in and ordered the Assembly’s security to escort Zulekha out of the chambers.
What part of having a child precludes a sitting representative from performing her duties?
How ridiculous is it that the Kenyan House of Assembly does not have a functional creche and is proud of that fact. What does it say about the Kenyan Parliament that since Independence, it needed a special policy to finally appoint female house of representatives of child bearing age? How can you make policies for women as a National Assembly if the women who are actually raising children and facing contemporary challenges have no place in your senate?
We need to do better as a continent. We just need to.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.