The parliamentary enactment of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Bill in March 2015 sent waves of cheer around human rights networks in Kenya. Although domestic violence is rife in Kenya, the state has not had any legislation addressing this in 51 years. A key champion in this struggle is a human rights defender and legislator, Hon Neto Agostinho Oyugi who represents Ndhiwa Constituency. He also chairs the Kenya Parliamentary Human Rights Association.
“Though some clauses were deleted we brought most of them back during the Committee stage. The change of attitude of the men as we came to the end of the process of enacting the bill was a great achievement as they became cognizant that domestic violence is not a women’s issue but a gender issue…a family issue thus the turnaround and eventual support,” says a determined Neto.
Passionate about equality, Hon. Neto supports human rights and the special protection of women’s rights. KHRC (Kenya Human Rights Commission), approached Kenya Parliamentary Human Right’s caucus to galvanize support of Members of Parliament to enact the Protection Against Domestic Violence bill. This was after the initial Bill was stripped down through various revisions. Enactment of this stripped down version would only have been a tick box exercise, where no real gains would be made for equality.
It is surely a milestone that a revised, comprehensive law was enacted. This law is a new dawn in how family relations and wrangles are managed and viewed in Kenya, signifying that Kenyans now recognize the negative impact of domestic violence and that the state is willing to do something about it.
Neto was involved in the drafting of amendments and he reintroduced them to the national assembly. He assisted in convening several meetings, including one that brought together almost 70 Members of Parliament to support the bill. KHRC reinforced this process through advocacy and lobbying to ensure quorum for the debate and enactment of the bill. This was only the beginning.
The representation of women in parliament remains low. Kenya has one of the lowest numbers of women in parliament in the region, despite gains made in industrialization, innovation and economic growth. Neto, with support from KHRC and others partnered to devise a formula to improve gender representation in parliament by realization of the ‘not more than two-thirds’ gender principle stipulated by the Constitution.
As a member of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of parliament, Neto consults with KHRC and other CSOs on the progress made by Parliament, relaying feedback on the legal, economic, social and political perspectives as well as the attitudes within Parliament. Neto took part in consultative meetings organized by KHRC to discuss possible strategies for a proper formula. These meetings resulted in Neto drafting an alternative bill with a formula on realizing the two-thirds gender principle after interactions with advocates of human rights and gender justice.
Recently there has been intensified discussion around the two thirds gender rule. Neto cites lack of political support for the realization and implementation of the two-thirds gender principle. A comprehensive strategy is required to ensure that those opposing gender equity do not quash this endeavour. The Chairperson of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee has just introduced a bill to postpone the implementation of the two third gender rule, shunning all proposals presented by the technical working group and the Kenya parliamentary human rights caucus to which Neto says,“This has awakened the people of Kenya to the reality…we need a multifaceted approach and an… unusual way of protecting the provision on gender equality in the Constitution.”
The discussions and research to innovate on how to realize the two-thirds gender principle have invigorated all stakeholders to keenly ponder over various mechanisms of ensuring implementation. These deliberations should also lead to the creation of a consensus on the amendment of the constitution to entrench further realization of the two third gender rule in political participation. Such changes in legislation could set the pace for further gains in equality on other sectors across the society.