KIRUKU: Make way for women leaders: smart, intelligent, graceful

KIRUKU: Make way for women leaders: smart, intelligent, graceful

With less than a month to the general election in Kenya, the usual vitriol against women witnessed in most countries during electioneering is doing the rounds in Kenya.

Women aspirants are bearing the brunt of electoral violence during the on-going campaigns; rumour mongering, name calling, the use of derogatory language and gender-based violence have become a phenomenon of electioneering. As if cultural norms were not sufficient to hinder women from political ambitions, the harsh economic times are derailing them even more.

The violence against women aspirants being witnessed is obviously meant to silence and discourage women from vying for elective political office. It is unfortunate that 50 years after independence, the society has not accepted that women can take up leadership roles and play them equally well or even better than men. This is no doubt due to male chauvinism arising from our deeply patriarchal communities.

Even though Kenya is the economic powerhouse of the East African region, it is still trailing at position 18 (19.7 per cent) in Africa as far as women representation in parliament is concerned. Rwanda (63.8 per cent), South Africa (41.9 per cent), Namibia (41.3 per cent), and Mozambique (39.6 per cent) are leading in women representation in parliament. The worst are Nigeria (5.6 per cent), Congo (7.4 per cent) and Mali (8.8 per cent).

Although many women have braced themselves for the war and plunged into the murky waters of elective politics, still, the two-thirds gender principle enshrined in Kenya’s constitution may not be realized in the next parliament. In 2013, there was no woman senatorial aspirant and no women won gubernatorial seats. As a result, the Senate was nicknamed, “Nyumba ya wazee”.

This sad scenario must not be repeated this year. Kenya must lead the region in sealing the gender parity in elective posts as well as in enhancing gender equality.

Political parties must ensure that women aspirants in their parties are supported and encouraged to press on despite the many challenges they are facing during the campaign season. One of the major hindrances to women political aspirants is the lack of financial muscle. Added to the violent political atmosphere, the prospects for women end up dim in comparison with male aspirants.

Financial constraints continue to be a huge challenge owing to the increased cost of funding and managing campaigns. Most women cannot afford the kind of money required to fuel their campaigns, mobilise voters and even pay for party tickets.

In the coastal region, 49 women candidates vied for various political seats in 2013, while this year the number has dropped to 27. This is an unfortunate setback to women empowerment and gender equality. If the trend is replicated in other parts of the country, then Kenya will go down as one of the African countries that is retrogressing when it comes to gender equality.

The violent political atmosphere has seen many potential women leaders shy away from active politics. The perception that women aspirant are unstable and going out of African norms expected of a decent woman has discouraged many of them from seeking elective posts.

Women aspirants have also complained of sexual harassment and name-calling by male competitors, which is meant to intimidate and discourage them from pursuing the course.

Some male competitors have been accused of hiring goons to rough up women opponents on the campaign trail so as to send them into submission. These are unfortunate incidents that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission should take seriously and punish those found guilty.

During party primaries, many women aspirants complained of discrimination by their party officials. Some women claimed that party officials were asking for sexual favours and bribes to win party tickets that would assure them of having their names on the ballot. These are serious allegations that any political party worth its salt would investigate and take disciplinary action against those found culpable. It is the duty of the government to ensure that women aspirants are protected against any form of violence, intimidation and abuse. It must ensure that electoral laws are followed to the letter and any violation of the code of conduct is punished according to the law. Women aspirants must stand firm and report cases of sexual violence without fear.

Kenyan men ought now to realise that global trends are changing and that women leaders are a reality they must live with. The feeling by men that they are more deserving of political seats than women has led to most of the election violence against women.

The IEBC, the media, political parties, election observers from the region and beyond, the government, the international community and non-governmental organisations involved in gender activism must all work together to ensure women aspirants get a fair playing ground with their male counterparts and that they are not disadvantaged in any way whatsoever.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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