Kenyan women have truly come a long way in penetrating through the political male-dominated world. Kenya’s political history has recorded great women who went through many difficult and humiliating conditions to fight for equality and participation in politics. Some of these difficulties include the beating of female candidates by the supporters of rival male candidates, male power play (manipulating and possibly rigging women out) and the lack of funds for women politicians. Since Kenya’s independence from the British rule in 1963, female representation in Parliament has been very low. During the last Kanu (Kenya African National Union) regime that ended in 2002, there were only nine women out of the 220 members of parliament (MPs). There has also been very low female representation in decision-making positions within government sectors/departments, the local government (municipalities) and parastatals.
In the current Narc (National Alliance of the Rainbow Coalition) government, the number of female MPs has at least increased to 18 out of the 222 members of parliament. However, this still falls short of the United Nations target of achieving 30% representation of women in politics.
It also falls short of the Beijing Platform for Action (the Fourth World Conference for Women in 1995), where it was agreed by all governments that there should be equal participation of women and men in decision-making bodies. The gender imbalance in Kenya’s political playing field has widened so much, since the male political ideology continues to define the standards of evaluation of women’s political performance and participation.
Women MPs continue to play second fiddle and none chairs a parliamentary committee during this ninth Parliament. They are even still not allowed to carry handbags into the House, according to the archaic male-dominated colonial rules.
What hinders women from being frontrunners in politics?
One of the major problems that women face is the lack of funds to conduct elections. Due to the feminization of poverty, many women interested in politics are faced with financial constraints which bar them from contesting, compared to their male counterparts; hence their political potentials go unnoticed.
The political parties’ structures are also male-dominated, thus are discriminative against women. It therefore becomes challenging for women to voice themselves or to take leading positions. Most of these parties only nominate men to winnable positions during elections. It is also evident that very few women politicians are seen hitting the campaign trails. If present, they are rarely heard on the podium because the campaign rallies are often male-dominated. It is paradoxical that women form the majority of Kenyan voters.
Certain cultural aspects also block women, who are portrayed as not possessing strong leadership qualities; many Kenyan communities still believe that men should lead. Combining politics and ‘child-rearing’/family life has also proved to be challenging. For many women, it is hard to balance both private and public life, which in most cases have interfered with many marriages.
Media coverage on the successes of women politicians and potential contenders is limited compared to their male counterparts.
What to do
The success of women in politics in Rwanda, Liberia, Sweden and South Africa for example, shows that there are many strategies women can use to gain power. Women in Kenya should feel challenged and call for affirmative action to increase their participation in decision-making bodies. They should unite and actively participate in nation-building activities.
Which is the best party for women to voice themselves?
Of all the strong and main political parties present in Kenya, only Narc-Kenya seems to be women friendly. Narc-Kenya, unlike ODM-K (Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya) seems to have an upper hand when it comes to addressing gender issues. The party does not only have a larger number of women representatives, but its policies are also gender sensitive and the party seems ready for affirmative action. It is the first party to hold a rotational national party chairmanship, giving all a chance to lead, including women. President Kibaki has also advised public institutions to increase female participation in key positions. ODM-K on the other hand, is spearheaded by male chauvinists who are not gender sensitive and are about to get rid of Nazlin Umar, one of their two female presidential candidates.
It is time for women to look for a way forward and join Narc-Kenya, the party which they can approach to air their grievances and allow them to participate fully in politics.
By Ann W. Njenga, Ass.Secretary, Narc-Kenya Scandinavia.
Published by African Press in Norway, Apn, firstname.lastname@example.org tel +47 932 99 739 or +47 6300 2525