Human Rights

Breaking the Glass Ceiling for Kenyan Women Politicians

Barriers to Women’s Participation in Politics in Kenya

Since post-independence, women in Kenya have suffered political injustices that have relegated them to the fringes of leadership and key decision-making positions. In the first post-independence general elections, held in 1963, no single woman was elected to Parliament despite women composing 50.44 per cent of the Kenyan population.[1] The recent August 2022 general elections generated 29 women members of the National Assembly (out of 290 members of Parliament), 3 women members of the Senate (out of 47 senators) and 7 women governors (out of 47 governors) in what appears to be a concerted effort to get more women in leadership. That notwithstanding, Kenyan women politicians continue to face a myriad of problems in their quest for leadership owing to factors including the following:

Patriarchal Political Field

Kenya’s political sphere is inherently patriarchal, with men dominating both the decision-making organs and primaries of political parties. Political parties have always been influenced by the notion that fielding strong candidates means awarding party tickets to men candidates at the expense of seemingly able women candidates.[2] As such, women who trounce men in party primaries and general elections are always branded tough. The introduction of woman representative seats to the National Assembly was geared towards enhancing women’s representation in Parliament. Nevertheless, this has more often than not been interpreted to mean that other elective seats are to be contested by men only.[3] Worse still, some male candidates have used this misconception against women candidates during campaigns arguing that women already have their special seats; hence the rest of the parliamentary seats should be occupied by men.

Electoral Violence

The violence witnessed before, during and after elections create a climate of fear that deters women from seeking elective positions. Women have been physically attacked on campaign trails, while others have suffered verbal and emotional abuse from rival groups. According to a briefing report by International Centre for Transitional Justice, some women aspirants in Kenya have undergone physical violence, rape, sexual harassment and intimidation.[4] Little effort has been made to protect women candidates from online abuse, where they are mainly subjected to sexist trolls meant to put them off politics. There have been cases of women members of parliament being assaulted by their male counterparts. In 2019, a photo of a woman member of Parliament with blood in her mouth went viral on Twitter. It was alleged that she was assaulted by her male counterpart after failing to allocate money to his constituency while sitting on the budget committee.[5]

Commercialization of Politics

Regardless of the many attempts to reduce election-related costs during campaigns, elections in Kenya are highly competitive due to the power and prestige that come with winning elective posts. The Kenyan electorate is notorious for choosing political leaders based on their ability to address societal needs, which usually requires them to have “deep pockets”.[6] A candidate’s financial ability is always tested by their frequency of giving handouts to the electorates, the expensive cars they drive, the size of their motorcade, and even flying helicopters during campaigns. To overcome the prevailing patriarchal structures in Kenyan politics, women candidates must spend more than men candidates but do not record the same level of success.[7]

Kenya’s Obligation to Promote Women’s Participation in Politics

Kenya has an obligation under Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to embody the principle of equality of men and women in its Constitution and national legislation. In tandem with the UN sustainable development goal No. 5 on achieving gender equality and target 5.5 thereunder on ensuring women’s full participation in politics, the Kenyan Vision 2030 acknowledges that increasing the number of women in Parliament is one of the strategies to address gender disparities in leadership.[8] Pegged on the stipulations of CEDAW, Article 27 (8) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, requires the Government of Kenya to take measures that will implement the two-thirds gender rule in all elective and appointive posts. In addition to this, it is required under Article 81 (c) of the Constitution that not more than two-thirds of the members of the elective bodies shall be of the same gender. The Articles mentioned above in the Constitution address the problem of having few women in national leadership.

However, implementing the two-thirds gender rule has proven to be an uphill task. In 2013, the Attorney General of Kenya, while foreseeing that the Kenyan Parliament would fail to meet the requirements of the two-thirds gender rule, filed a petition seeking an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court of Kenya on whether Article 81 (b) required the progressive realization of the two-thirds gender rule or the same was to be implemented in the general elections slated for 4th March 2013. The Supreme Court held that Article 81 (b) could only be realised progressively at the National Assembly and Senate but was immediately applicable to the County Assemblies. However, legislative measures giving effect to Article 81 (b) on the two-thirds gender principle were to be taken before 27th August 2015.[9] In 2020, the lackadaisical approach of Parliament compelled the Chief Justice to advise the President to dissolve Parliament since it had failed to comply with court orders to enact laws on implementing the two-thirds gender rule.[10]

Through its legislative arm, the Government of Kenya must abide by the obligations created by CEDAW and the Constitution to ensure gender equality in elective posts. Thus, enacting laws necessitating the implementation of the two-thirds gender principle will immensely enhance the participation of women in national leadership.

[1] Centre for Rights, Education and Awareness, ‘Tracing the Journey: Towards Implementation of the Two-Thirds Gender Principle’, p. 6 <> accessed 5 May 2023.

[2]Ibid, p.10.

[3] Karuti Kanyinga and Tom Mboya, ‘The Cost of Politics in Kenya: Implications for Political Participation and Development’ (2021) p. 17 <> accessed 5 May 2023.

[4] Agatha Ndonga Kelli Muddell, ‘Ending Gender Violence in Elections Inclusion of Women in Kenyan Politics and the National Dialogue Process from a Transitional Justice Perspective’ (December 2019) p.4 <> accessed 11 July 2023.

[5] Idris Muktar, AJ Davis and Samantha Beech, ‘Kenyan MP arrested, accused of slapping female colleague’ (14 June 2019) <> accessed 11 May 2023.

[6] Supra n. 3, p. 17.


[8] Kenya Vision 2030 (2007) p.136 <>  accessed July 12, 2023.

[9] In the Matter of the Principle of Gender Representation in the National Assembly and the Senate [2012] eKLR.

[10] Chief Justice’s Advice to the President Pursuant to Article 261 (7) of the Constitution (2020).


By Mwaka Mupe

Mwaka Mupe is a PhD candidate at the University of Bayreuth.

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