Universal Vs. Targeted Affirmative Action In Kenya

Affirmative action is about giving an otherwise disadvantaged or marginalized group privileges or preferential treatment.In order to empower women and enable them to compete favorably with men in the Kenyan society, affirmative action has been embraced. Affirmative action is hailed because it offers a disadvantaged group the opportunity to develop their skills, talent and acumen such that they can compete at the same level as their more privileged compatriots. The first gender based affirmative action in Kenya was in the education sector where girls are given lower entry level cut off points compared to boys. Through such an action, more girls have been able to join secondary schools and institutions of higher learning .

Another area where affirmative action was deemed necessary is in politics. Women participation in politics in Kenya has been peripheral. Since independence, women have been underrepresented both in elective and non elective public offices. The first election in Kenya was held in 1963 and there was no woman legislature. Due to agitation, by 1997 women were 4.1% of the parliamentarians. This number increased to 8.1% in 2002 and in 2007 due to more women being elected and nominated, the number increased to 9.8%.

One of the most commonly used affirmative action measures is use of quotas. A quota is a fixed percentage that is prescribed to the disadvantaged group. In Kenya, one such quota is the two thirds gender rule. The two thirds gender rule applies to all positions in public service. To ensure gender parity, the new constitution of 2010 introduced the two thirds gender rule that applies to elective as well as public service positions. At the national level, there has been heated debate on how to implement the two third gender rule considering that in the first post new constitution election only 5.5% of elected members of parliament were women.

Gender related universal affirmative action has served the gender divide well through enhancing access for women. However, it is about time the question of whether all women deserve affirmative action is asked especially in the area of employment and in politics. There are women who have had equal and some even better opportunities than men. While Universal affirmative action reduces risk of leaving out deserving ones, it also is increasingly providing undue advantages to many privileged women in the Kenyan society. Consequently, the boy child in Kenya is left behind and men are increasingly becoming the marginalized lot. By the foregoing considerations, I would make a case for targeted affirmative action. This would mean, privileges are based on a system that facilitates thorough screening so that both deserving men and women benefit from affirmative action.

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