Male MPs last evening ganged up to throw out provisions in the Matrimonial Property Bill that would have enabled divorced couples to share property equally irrespective of the contribution of each spouse.
The matter was put to vote after a deadlock over whether to have matrimonial property shared according to the contribution of each spouse.
With 34 women MPs in the chamber of the National Assembly, the provision was defeated 87-28 in favour of an amendment proposed by Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Samuel Chepkong’a. Three MPs abstained.
The Bill is now headed to State House for President Uhuru Kenyatta to give his assent.
MPs also pushed through another amendment that categorised matrimonial property as “matrimonial homes, household goods and effects in those homes and any other immoveable or movable property jointly owned by both spouses.”
The heated debate Tuesday evening was marked by an unusually high number of MPs in the House unlike other days when more technical Bills go through the Third Reading.
While couples will share property according to their contributions, the burden of liabilities – loans and debts – will be borne equally as long as they are “for the benefit of the marriage.”
“If there is any property to be divided, it must be in accordance with the share of each spouse’s contribution to the matrimonial property. It ensures that no one person just sits and waits for the other person,” said Mr Chepkong’a.
James Nyikal (Seme, ODM) was among MPs who argued that property ought not to be shared equally irrespective of the spouses’ contribution.
“If it is taken for granted that just being in the marriage everything will be shared equally and there’ll be no question, I don’t think that will be fair,” said Dr Nyikal.
Millie Odhiambo (Mbita, ODM) argued that equal sharing was a constitutional principle and the contribution of each partner should not be taken into consideration.
“The Constitution is very clear about equal rights before, during and after dissolution of a marriage. It is not really anything we have a choice about unless if it is calling for the amendment of the Constitution,” she said.
Zainab Chidzuga (Kwale County) argued that contributions by spouses was not just financial or material.
“A woman will clean her husband’s house, warm his bath water and many other things that should be considered as contribution to enable her get an equal share of any matrimonial property),” she said.
The view was echoed by Esther Murugi (Nyeri Town) who said: “Whether the woman has contributed or not, she has fed the man, she has cleaned the man, she has taken care of the family. She is entitled to 50 per cent.”
When Rachel Shebesh, who was chairing the session, put the matter to the vote by acclamation, the amendment appeared to have sailed through, but the women MPs marshalled the numbers to force a physical vote.
That was where the men won 87-28. David Ochieng (Ugenya, ODM) had the MPs return to the Bill after the Third Reading to include the provision that only property that would have been owned jointly would be shared equally.
This drew protests from Wanjiku Muhia (Nyandarua County, TNA), who said that would be unfair to women because many of them were not jointly registered as owners of property acquired by their husbands.
Mr Chepkong’a had to withdraw an amendment removing the provision to apply to the court to set aside a pre-nuptial agreement if it is determined that it was influenced by fraud, coercion or is manifestly unjust.
Ms Odhiambo said it was important that if someone was coerced into signing an agreement, there would be recourse to the courts.