Special Post-Election Issue
Issue Number 36 • April 2013
Journey towards attaining two thirds rule should begin now …By Joyce Chimbi
nlike many countries that are recently emerging from war, Kenya still has a long way to go in as far as women representation in positions of leadership is concerned. Rwanda, Liberia and even Sudan have shown tremendous initiative towards ensuring that the political process is engendered by expanding the space to accommodate women leaders. According to a research on gender issues in the Great Lakes Regions of Africa, despite an increase in women legislative bodies, women continue to be underrepresented in most structures of power and decision making. Many have watched in dismay as the political space that had been expanded to accommodate more women in Kenya was occupied by scores of men across the country.
Although the Constitution demands that not more than two thirds of the same gender should occupy public elective positions, the Supreme Court ruled that this clause will be achieved progressively and should be attained in 2015 within the national assembly. “This ruling threw the spanner into the works and gave political parties a loophole to ignore women,” says Julia Mueni, a woman leader from Machakos County. Indeed, the discrimination began with the political party nominations. When the political party primaries were held to nominate candidates to vie for elective positions, it was evident that the political terrain would be rougher for women than ever before. The male dominance of political parties blatantly made a farce of the space that had been expanded by the
gender sensitive Constitution of Kenya 2010 as scores of party tickets went to male aspirants. Still, about 91 women threw their weight behind the National Assembly seats across the 47 counties. Only 16 women were elected in all eight regions. The Rift Valley region which in the previous parliament had elected the highest number of women, only elected four women. Two of them newcomers, only two out of the seven female politicians who were in the previous parliament successfully defended their seats — Helen Sambili and Joyce Laboso. The rest succumbed to political party euphoria.
“For a country to have elected fewer women within the context of the most gender sensitive constitution in the world is a message that we are operating in a political context that has very little, if any, political goodwill for its female politicians,” says Grace Gakii, a gender activist in Nairobi. Unlike before where only three seats were contested for, namely the Presidency, Member of Parliament (MP) and Civic, there are now an additional three more seats. “Although there were more seats for women to compete for, the environment was still not enabling.
Women remained under attack from male opponents and even the society,” says Hamisa Zaja, a politician in the Coastal region.
While there were fewer incidences of physical violence and assault against female aspirants, the elections were characterised by verbal abuse and degrading sexual innuendoes. When Veska Kangongo presented her bid to vie for the gubernatorial seat in Uasin Gishu County, Rift Valley, her rivals said that the first governor in the region will be “anything but a woman”. A statement that was dropped across the country consequently leaving only a handful of women to run for top seats such as gubernatorial and senate. Zaja explains that besides the society’s negative attitude towards women’s leadership, women are still not able to amass the required resources to conduct high magnitude campaigns. “I pulled out of the race for the governor of Mombasa County under the Wiper Democratic Movement because I did not have the economic muscle required,” she says. This is besides the money required to oil an effective campaign that includes acquiring vehicles, fuelling them to facilitate mobility and branding.
“Although there were more seats for women to compete for, the environment was still not enabling. Women remained under attack from male opponents and even the society,” — Hamisa Zaja, politician, Coastal region
Martha Karua addressing her supporters in one of her campaigns. She was the only female candidate for presidential seat and emerged number six out of eight candidates. Picture: Kenyan Woman Correspondent When Martha Karua, who emerged sixth in the presidential race announced that she only has KSh56 million to her name, it was not clear how she would finance her campaign machinery when her most serious rivals were talking about an KShs8 billion campaign budget.
Other than resources the nomination fee was prohibitive to most women especially those seeking to vie for high offices. Besides resources, women aspirants faced serious challenges that included the violence that has become a part and parcel of Kenyan politics. “Women are not violent in nature; they tend to shy away from violence. This means that while the Constitution requires that not more than two thirds of members of elective public bodies should be of one gender, it will be an uphill task, before women can get there,” says John Ndeta, Media Coordinator Peace Initiative Kenya project. If things went on the correct way, out of the 290 members of the upcoming National Assembly, at least 117 ought to have been women. However, only 16 female aspirants made it. Even after the elections failed to favour women, among the 12 seats that were left for party nominations, only five women were picked for the national assembly. “The society is anything but supportive. Male politicians successfully incited and confused voters to push women to vie for the affirmative action seat (women representative),” Mueni explains. It is only the women representative seat that will see the number of women in the national assembly now
stand at 65 which will include two women of who one will be a youth and another living with disability. Further, the manner in which campaigns were conducted proved to be a barrier for women. “Men campaign and lobby at night but for women it is different. You find that a woman aspirant goes to bed thinking that her position in the party is secure, only to wake up to new realities in the morning after men have kept their night vigils,” explains Zaja. Women who defy these political traditions face threats of rape, and other forms of bodily harm.
The fact that the constitution also a put a minimum level of education for those aspiring for political positions proved to be a challenge for women. When the current crop of women leaders should have been in school, a good number of them were not offered the opportunity. This then restricted the number of women vying. One of the strongest politicians in Nairobi County, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru found herself locked out of party nominations at the very last minute for lack of a university degree. “Before she was disqualified, Wanjiru had a massive following. But she’s not alone, many women have shied away from elective seats for lack of post-secondary education,” Mueni explains. Clearly, more than ever before, the results of the general elections have reaffirmed the perception that the promise held in the Constitution, to expand the political space for women, is still far out of reach for a significantly high number of women harbouring political dreams.