News of the death of the President of Malawi, Bingu Wa Mutharika, who succumbed to a fatal heart attack on April 5, was quickly overtaken (who would be a politician?) by headlines across the world two days later, both in the print and electronic media, announcing that Africa was getting its second female president, as Joyce Banda, until then Malawi’s Vice-President, assumed the presidency, the first woman to hold the highest office in that country.
In doing so Joyce Banda joined Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the elite ranks of presidential leaders that now includes the likes of Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the President of Argentina.
HILLARY CLINTON ON WOMEN IN POLITICS: STILL A “GLASS CEILING”?
Being a woman and becoming president of your country is no mean feat. Only this week, during an official visit to India, the United States Secretary of State and one-time presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, was asked whether she thought there would be a woman as President of the United States in her lifetime. “I hope so”, she responded, “I really want to see that in my lifetime” but she said, “We still have a pretty hard glass ceiling [in the US] that has not been broken at the presidential level”.
It’s arguable that when Hillary Clinton ran for the Democrat Party’s presidential nomination against Barack Obama she lost not because she was a woman but because she was “that woman” but even so, she has a point and it doesn’t just apply to the USA.
WOMEN AND POLITICS IN KENYA: POSTIVE WORDS BUT…
In an effort to boost women representation in politics, several countries have introduced quotas either through constitution, national legislation or through political parties, which guarantee parliamentary seats to women, not least here in Kenya.
Article 81 (b) of the new Kenyan constitution reads; ‘not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender;’ giving women of Kenya at least 1/3 minimum representation in elective public bodies.
… THERE’S STILL A PROBLEM
Regardless of this provision in the constitution, women in Kenya seem to shy away from active politics. There are many reasons for this, some cultural, some social, but for many would-be women politicians the problem is one of money, or rather the lack of it.
Only this week at a meeting in Kisumu of women leaders called to deliberate on the political issues facing women, aspirants called on political parties ‘to spare them tight nominations rigours and to lower the fees charged on aspirants to attract more participation’ and called on organizations interested in change to sponsor them to run for electoral seats. (‘Women lament the lack of funds for campaigns’, The Standard, Tuesday, May 8, 2012).
PROMOTING WOMEN IN KENYAN POLITICS: AT LAST, NEWS OF ACTION NOT JUST WORDS
Politicians often pay lip service to the need for more women in political life but actions in support of this objective are few and far between. The Kenya Forum is pleased to note, however, that one Kenyan political party does seem to be putting its money where its mouth is.
The cries of financial woe from female prospective politicians in Kenya seems to have reached the ears of the former cabinet minister, Nicholas Biwott whose National Vision Party (NVP) announced at the weekend an offer to pay nomination fees for all women aspirants who seek its ticket (‘Party’s shot in the arm for women aspirants’, Standard on Sunday, May 6).
“Many women, unlike men do not have the capacity to pay fees to the party and The Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and are always locked out”, said Johnson Kipchumba, the NVP’s spokesman. “We would like to change this state of affairs”, he continued.
Calling on women to join the NVP, Kipchumba declared, “Once they clinch the tickets, they need not worry about the fees to be paid to the IEBC. We will foot”.
The NVP, which captured two civic seats in by-elections in the North and South Rift is set to hold a National Delegates Conference to decide on whether to field a presidential candidate or channel its support a strong political party.
The Kenya Forum does not support a particular political party but we do urge other parties in Kenya to follow the NVP’s lead.