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Why Kenyan Women Should Now Be Actively Involved In Politics.
What makes women in Kenya shy away from running for elective posts? IMAGE COURTESY/ Reuters/Ngor Khamis
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Why Kenyan Women Should Now Be Actively Involved In Politics. 

By Prisca Aroko

The political space in Kenya has for the longest time been dominated by the male voice, but few women have managed to manoeuvre around and create a political stronghold for themselves.

Yet, even with the new constitution proposing changes and amendments that may see more women in office, few are willing to throw themselves into the political ring and fight for elective posts.

Phil Otieno, the Executive Director of Advocates for Social Change Kenya (ADSOCK) and Wilkister Aduma an experienced political party administrator and Founder of Run For Office explain why this is the time for Kenyan women to join politics and actively seek the elective posts that has so far seen the country in a constitutional limbo with the two-thirds gender rule amendment directive in parliament.

According to Phil Otieno, Kenya’s current constitution that was promulgated in August 27, 2010 ushered in a new constitutional dispensation and was hailed as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world because it, among other things brought in recognition of women’s rights as human rights and furthermore, it recognized dignity, social, cultural and economic rights including rights to education and right to health including reproductive health and even more so, the freedom of citizens, including women to exercise their political rights as enshrined in article 38 of the constitution of Kenya.

IMAGE/ Phil Otieno.
IMAGE/ Phil Otieno.

The principles of equality, equity, inclusiveness and non-discrimination, human dignity, social justice and human rights are well established as core values in the constitution yet there is evidence of hostility towards gender equality initiatives and reforms where existing or expected power differentials and hierarchies are challenged.

‘’Women still find it difficult to rise to positions of influence, leadership and decision making platforms. There is still slow implementation of affirmative action clauses in the constitution.’’ Says Phil Otieno.

Without crying foul, women still face lots of challenges that hinder some from pursuing a political career.

‘’Some of these predicaments are also shared by the male counterparts. However, there are unique challenges facing women who choose to run for any specific office. This includes lack of political experience.

Compared to their male counterparts, women enter into politics with little or no political experience. This is attributed to the different political party structure that does not support the leadership of women internally.

For example, most youth leagues in political parties are led by young men and not young women. What this means is that while the young man will be getting experience, the young women may shift their focus from politics. A research conducted by Badili Africa showed that most politically disenfranchised group are young women between 18-25 years, ideally, this is the age where youth get experience in the leadership of political party youth leagues.

Another challenge working against women seeking to join politics is the campaign finance. Historically, women have owned little or no immovable property that can act as collateral for financing, this against the male counterparts that at very young age have already been allocated land and can steady their income streams to be able to run  relatively comfortably for political office.

The reality is that property is dominantly owned by the male gender and even married women have little say in the use of family owned wealth.

Then culture is also a huge hindrance. We are still reeling from the largely patriarchal society in Kenya, Africa and the rest of the world. Our minds have been pre-conditioned to associate masculinity with leadership and femininity with nurturing, therefore the Kenyan voter still holds this view and thus jeopardising the chances for female candidates with merit to win political party nominations and compete on an even playing field with male counterparts.’’ Explains Wilkister Aduma.

IMAGE/ Wilkister Aduma.
IMAGE/ Wilkister Aduma.

Phil Otieno also believes that bias campaigns against women including violence and cultural stereotypes preclude women from vying for leadership positions.

He says, ‘’If a woman wanted to vie for a political position, they are normally subjected to prejudice and smear campaigns about their relationships, either past or present, including reproductive health issues such as whether they have procured an abortion, how many men they have had in their lives, so on and so forth. Conversely, when that is used for men, it is done to show how much of a ‘jogoo’ he is!”

Violence meted on women vying for political offices is not coincidental but rather an alarming trend in Kenya, toward ever increasing levels of violence against female politicians.

Our cultural perspective also has more to do with socialisation and how communities perceive women. The patriarchal nature of our society has it that men should be the leaders and women the ‘followers’, a classic case is the ‘deputy syndrome’ in most appointive structures where oftentimes women are appointed as deputies in most administrative, elective and appointive positions including in parastatals.

Women have not been given the platform and opportunity to grow. After the promulgation of the constitution, one of the deputies Inspector General of Police was a female by law, when the president made the decision to drop her for alleged non performance, the law was hurriedly changed in parliament to allow a male to be appointed.

These push backs are normally carried out in the name of  tradition and are often a reaction to efforts by the dominant segments, mostly men, to maintain the status quo.’’

But what role can the registrar of parties play to ensure more women are fielded for political positions by their respective political parties.

‘’The registrar of political parties must enact legislation that forces political parties to nominate more women to run for office and ensure that they adhere to the Political Parties Act on how the party structures are constituted to ensure that political parties have more women running for office.’’ Says Wilkister Aduma.

However, the main responsibility now lies with the political parties that are likely to be used and the means to securing positions by women.

According to Phil Otieno, political parties must be made to implement the affirmative action clauses in their policies; they should desist from being rhetoric and engage in practical implementation of the quota systems to ensure balanced representation.

Wilkister Aduma also believes that political parties play a strategic role in ensuring minority groups like women are nominated to positions of political influence or leadership.

‘’Within party structures, women occupy positions of less authority and thus often outnumbered in decision making organs like the National Executive Council (NEC). These positions are essential in giving visibility on national platforms which goes a long way in helping one seek an elective position.

Political parties should start by allocating women positions that give them visibility to aid their journey through elective politics. Furthermore, it is my belief that when political parties stop the negative weaponization of gender and nominate women to run for office, the citizenry will vote in more women.

The women who have made it to political office have either had the blessing through their political parties to run for office or their good will for nomination. I laud all the efforts made by women who were nominated into office and went back to battle renewal of tenure through elective politics.

Notably political parties can lower their nomination fees further for women in order to ensure that they field more women candidates to run for office.’’ Adds Wilkister Aduma.

When gender equity is solved at the ballot, the country will lessen the number of nomination to different political seats based on the number of the minority gender. This can be as simple as having running mates being of either gender for the gubernatorial and presidential seats. This in turn will have increased significantly the number of minority gender.

Levelling the playground is the ultimate solution. As it is right now, the environment is too hostile for a definitive number of women to make it in elective leadership.

‘’Sadly, women holding leadership positions must show that they are capable of delivering. I’m saying ‘sadly’ because men are not subjected to similar gauging and it never matters whether they deliver on their promises or not.

On the other hand, women must support each other to rise to key decision making positions and I think it is high time, albeit far-fetched it may seem, that women came up with a women centred political party.

The current women leaders need to engage in capacity building towards political mobilisation since political representation can help shift reforms concerning women’s leadership capacity leading towards the transformative role of women’s collective agency in both formal settings and informal associations, which both depends on and determines their individual agency.’’ Elucidates Phil Otieno.

And as for Wilkister Aduma, she emphasizes that the first task of leadership is to inspire, the second is to give hope and the third is to deliver on one’s obligation for the common good of the people.

‘These three things are complimentary and do not necessarily flow in the order listed. The women elected in office today can inspire others through structured or non-structured mentorship and deliver on both their instrumental and intrinsic values as women.’’

As plans for 2022 politics are already underway, it is now the time for women-led outfits to present unique standpoints as opposed to following or supporting initiatives that will not benefit the common voter.

Can the women now mobilize around pre-set agenda and be actively involved in politics not just as most voters but as aspirants for the 2022 elections?

Phil Otieno is Human Rights Activist, Trainer and a Self- Defense, Assertiveness & Boundaries Setting Instructor. He is currently serving as the Executive Director of Advocates for Social Change Kenya (ADSOCK). He has participated in including making presentations in a number of global gatherings and conferences on gender and development with a special focus on engaging with men and boys in Gender Transformative Approaches (GTA) and Gender Accommodative Approaches (GAA).

Wilkister Aduma is the founder of Run For Office and has over six years of experience in political party administration. She has served as the Executive Director of Labour Party of Kenya and was the youngest person to hold such a political office at the time. Additionally, she has five years experience in youth advocacy and has been engaged by different stakeholders in the sector as a thought leader in the area and thus, participated in the UN Women Youth Engagement Framework creation, a key speaker and in the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung conference 2018 on ‘The Role of Youth in Rethinking Democracy’ and she is also a point person on commenting on national issues in the mainstream media.

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