More women in Kenya are preparing to vie for political power at the next election than at any time in the country’s history but they are still faced with challenges which in most cases hinder their progress.
Culture – a Setback for women
Chairman of the Commission of Revenue Allocation, Micah Cheserem
Social culture has been perhaps the greatest setback especially since Kenya is in large part a patriarchal society and most communities are still clinging to the traditional perception that the man is the leader. Men pretty much call the shots in all social, political and economic spheres. Any woman who tries to go on the contrary is viewed as rebellious, one of loose morals and is often alienated by the community.
In some communities, especially the pastoralist communities in Kenya, women do not enjoy freedom of speech and will rarely be found amidst men discussing important issues. Some communities have also failed to educate the girl child; she is often married off to some much older man in exchange of livestock and money as the boy child goes to school.
As a result, women in such communities have not just been left ignorant of their rights and what belongs to them they are also not economically empowered. Such ill-educated women grow up with the mentality that generally women are not good enough hence it becomes impossible for a woman bearing such perceptions to support another qualified woman, including voting for her.
The basis for the political advancement and better representation of women is there, however. Women make up some 60 percent of the voting population in Kenya, which surely should provide a platform from which more women can reach elected positions.
Women Lack the Funds
Financial constraint is another hurdle that has kept many women from politics. Most women lack the funds to facilitate campaigns, as well as affording political party nomination fees. Some political parties, however, in an effort to support women, have offered to pay their nomination fees. One of these is former Cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott’s National Vision Party (NVP), which has offered to pay nomination fees for all women aspirants who seek its ticket. It’s a start but more needs to be done.
Security has also been an area of concern as women and children always bear the brunt whenever there is political unrest or natural calamities. Sadly, the electioneering period in Kenya is associated with chaos and women prefer to keep a low profile out of fear and intimidation especially from male opponents.
Meeting the new Constitutional Gender Rule
Currently under 10 percent of Kenya’s MPs are women (9.8 percent), however, the situation is likely to change come next year’s election as the constitution’s one-third rule must be observed. Yet although the gender rule is a constitutional requirement, the challenge lies in implementing it since we cannot handpick women and give them those positions.
Experts have warned that Kenyans will be forced to bear the burden of the additional cost of the Sh 4 billion, which will be required to meet the salaries of those nominated to fill a possible gender gap if the one-third rule is not met. The cost, which the experts refer to as ‘gender penalty’, will increase the wage bill, which means Kenyans will have to dig deeper in their already all but empty pockets to pay the bill.
The chairman of the Commission of Revenue Allocation, Micah Cheserem, has advised Kenyans to elect more women to office in order to shield themselves from the gender penalty. Whether they will is another matter.
More Women Rising to the Ocassion
Nyanza and Western provinces so far have the highest number of women aspirants who have declared interests in various elective positions, which include for standing senator and governor for their respective counties.
Charity Ngilu – just spoiling votes for Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka?
Among these women is Nominated MP Millie Odhiambo who is aspiring to be the MP for Mbita; Adhiambo Odinga (sister to Prime Minister Raila Odinga) aspiring to be Kisumu governor; Agnes Awuor(a former Nun) the aspiring senator in Siaya County; and Prof. Collete Suda, a senatorial candidate for Migori county.
Three women have also expressed their interests in the already crowded presidential race.
Martha Karua, the iron lady who passes as one of the few reformers in leading political circles, is leading the pack. Then there is Charity Ngilu, whose interest is being perceived by the Kamba community (from where she hails) as a tactic to spoil votes for vice president Kalonzo Musyoka who is also in the presidential race. Ngilu and Kalonzo have for a long time been political rivals.
The third woman on the road to State House is the 27-year-old Kingwa Kamencu, who came into the limelight recently and has been nicknamed a ‘cry baby’ by Kenyans, following her public outburst when she declared her interests in the 2012 presidency during a press conference early this year.
More Women in Politics Good for Kenya
Rallies and forums to enlighten women as to their rights will serve in giving women a different look on life, not least, political life. There is also a need to enlighten the general public on what it means for instance to have women representatives as there are a lot of misconceptions on the subject. Some people think that a woman representative ought to be elected by women since she will be there to address needs of women only, which is not the case.
women empowerment as proven by research and supported by plain common sense is not just good for women but also for the nation at large. Feminine leadership has proved to be quite essential for democracy, development and for peace in other countries: we need more of it in Kenya.
Related Kenya Forum postings:
Women Politicians in Africa (Oct. 19, 2012)
Women in Politics: Joyce Banda in Malawi and now positive progress in Kenya (May 9, 2012)
May the Best Woman Win? (Sept 23, 2011)
Martha Karua for President – Is that so fanciful? (April 6, 2011)