Special Post-Election Issue
Issue Number 36 • April 2013
Culture denies Gusii women elective seats T …By Ben Oroko
hough majority of women from the Gusii community vied for different seats in the just concluded General Election, retrogressive cultural mind-sets hampered their bid to capture the positions. The shambolic party primaries that preceded the elections, inadequate information on the position of the women representative’s seat and candidates marital status conspired to deny women leadership positions. According to Rebecca Otachi the only female candidate for the Kitutu Chache North Constituency parliamentary seat, her opponents used smear campaign to edge her out of the race. “Unless the community changes its mindset towards female candidates in respect to their marital status, we will still have very able women missing out on leadership positions,” observes Otachi. The issue of the women representative’s seat provided for in the Constitution was used by the opponents to create an impression that women should not contest for any other political seat as they had already been awarded theirs by law.
…By Larry Kimori Kenyan women had little to celebrate about on March 8 when the world celebrated International Women’s Day. The day was marked quietly as Kenyans came to terms with the results of the March 4 General Elections. The results also served to affirm fear by women that the political arena was yet to embrace their bid for leadership. None of the hundreds of women who contested the six elective positions were elected to senior posts like President, Senator and Governor. The few who sailed through were elected to the National Assembly as MPs and or women’s representatives, while the rest were elected country representatives. The theme of IWD was most appropriate for Kenya, if the voters were to promote it, as the country faced the first polls within the new constitutional dispensation. It was marked on March 8, right in the middle of the tallying of the presidential at Bomas of Kenya, which had most Kenyans glued to the radio and television screens anxiously waiting for the final outcome.
“Whenever I shared a platform with my opponents, they kept telling the electorate that I should not seek MP’s seat because women have their seat already allocated to them by the Constitution. This propaganda eventually confused voters because they expected my name to be among the women candidates seeking the Women Representative’s seat,” she notes. Otachi claims that voters had been misled that every woman was contesting for the Women Representative’s Rebecca Otachi lost in the race for Kitutu Chache North Constituency parliamentary seat due to seat, a development which she says unfair competition. Picture:Ben Oroko. contributed to her poor performance in the race for Member of the National Assembly. Being the only female candidate among However, she admits that women candi“It was, therefore, quite a challenge to dates from the Gusii community who were 13 men, Otachi says, people were eager to liscorrect this view in the electorate’s minds. vying for various elective seats were affected ten to her vision for the constituency if she According to some of my agents, in some by flawed party primaries. got elected. polling centres women were looking for my “Though I did not win the seat, I was able name under the Women Representative's to sell my agenda to the electorate and inballot paper and I lost quite a number of my “I personally blame flawed party pri- crease my visibility for future attempts,” she potential votes due to this misconception,” maries for my poor performance in the observes. laments Otachi General Election since I initially associated She regrets that the community is yet to myself with the United Democratic Forum change its cultural mind-set about women’s (UDF), which was a popular political veAt the same time Otachi points out that leadership, with majority holding a view that hicle among my supporters but during the financial constraint were a major challenge women from the community were not yet ripe party primaries, the party ticket was given to during the campaigns as she relied on family for political leadership, especially in the Na- my opponent without conducting of formal resources, support from well-wishers and pertional Assembly. nominations. I had to quickly switch to the sonal savings to finance campaigns. little-known Farmers’ Party to avoid missing While election laws prohibit voter-buying/ out on the ballot paper,” Otachi recounts. bribing, Otachi says that the campaigns were a “My dream of representing my constituShe notes that it was hectic as she had to display of financial might among various canency in the National Assembly was shattered re-introduce her new party of choice besides didates, influencing the electorate to demand by retrogressive cultural beliefs which do not readjusting her campaign posters and other for cash hand-outs from aspirants. recognise women’s potential in political lead- materials on the new party’s colours. She laments incidents of voter-buying ership,” says Otachi. She adds: “My political opponents took advantage which influenced the voting patterns and fi“It was a challenge as some of my oppo- of the ensuing confusion to advance propa- nal results as well as the electorates’ choice of nents kept reminding the electorate that Kitu- ganda messages to the electorate that I had leaders. It compromised the electorate’s demotu constituents since independence has never dropped out of the race, thus discouraging cratic right to choose leaders based on policies been led by a woman, so let Rebecca contest and confusing my supporters," states Ota- and ability to deliver on the political positions for the Women Representative’s seat and leave chi. they were seeking. the National Assembly seat to male candi“Hand-outs played a major role in the She describes the campaigns as generally dates,” discloses Otachi. peaceful, saying she did not encounter any inci- campaigns and the electorate expected to reShe notes that negative stereotyping against dents of violence in the constituency, since she ceive cash hand-outs and thus ignored candiwomen seeking political leadership from the preached peace and engaged on issue-based dates if they failed to hint that they will part Gusii community still reigns supreme. campaigns without attacking other candidates. with something after addressing them,” she recalls. Otachi managed to garner 564 votes, “Though I did not win the seat, I was able to sell my agenda to though she raises concerns on the final tally of votes. However, she pledges to work with the electorate and increase my visibility for future attempts.” the the community in their development agenda — Rebecca Otachi in the next five years.
Why gender agenda did not gain momentum in elections
the International Women’s Day theme was: “The Gender Agenda: Gains momentum. A modern progressive world needs equality.” According to Lucy Githaiga, Country Manager Diakonia, women faced many hurdles not only as aspirants and candidates but also as voters. Githaiga singled out gender biases in party nominations and negative socio-cultural attitudes as some of the factors that impede women’s quest for political office. “The structures of political parties, electoral systems and legislative assemblies often created systemic barriers to women’s full and equal participation in Government,” said Githaiga. In view of that, she suggested that women use various organisational strategies to overcome those barriers to their participation in leadership in future. Diakonia jointly with Association of media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) had spent the better part of last year and this year conducting regular training for women aspirants to equip them with skills to present themselves as parliamentary or county representative candidates. They were also to learn skills on how to maximise media (electronic, print and social media) to gain visibility and a voice in the society.
In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action identified women in power and decisionmaking as one of its critical areas of concern and outlined concrete actions to be taken by governments, the private sector, academic institutions, regional bodies and non-governmental organisations as well as the United Nations system to increase women’s access and full participation in power structures and decision-making. In most countries, women around the world are meeting the challenges of leadership, and contributing to change in their communities, countries and in the international arena. “By building strong foundations for leadership and strong networks, representing women’s perspectives in decision-making circles, and seizing opportunities for change, women are meeting the challenges they face in creating the change necessary to achieve equality with men in decision-making at all levels,” adds Githaiga.