Women strongly emerge as political leaders in Kenya

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Kenya women voters casting their ballot at a polling station in Nairobi during the 8 August 2017 General Elections. Photo: Allan Gichigi

Patriarchal underpinnings of the African society undermine prospects of women in political leadership. Nevertheless, with the dispensation of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, things are changing and it is no longer a phenomenon to have women competitively go for elective leadership positions alongside their male counterparts.

Although Kenya is yet to achieve the two-thirds gender rule constitutional requirement, that ensures not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies are of the same gender, deliberate efforts by civil society, political parties as well as development partners geared towards an egalitarian society are slowly beginning to bear fruit.

Notably, in the just concluded 8 August 2017 General Elections, the number of women who got elected to various positions at the county and national assemblies increased significantly. The 2017 General Elections (second one since the introduction of devolved governance in 2013), saw three women elected as Governors; and Senators respectively; as the number of women representatives elected to the August house also increased from 16 (in the 11th Parliament) to 23. At the county level, the number of female members at the county assembly also increased to compared to the 2013 General Elections to about 100 from 84.

Worth noting, women from marginalized communities impressively prevailed over some of their male counterparts taking several leadership positions in the region. Isiolo County elected its first female senator, while Ijara and Samburu West constituencies will for the first time have elected female representatives in the 12th Parliament. This is a true testament that time has come where women are strongly emerging in the political domain which has in the past been a preserve for men.

Orderly election day in Nairobi, KenyaOn 8 August 2017, women and youth came out in large numbers to exercise their democratic rights during the general elections. Photo: Allan Gichigi

Our Devolution project has been implementing a Gender Leadership, Governance and Socio-economic Empowerment program, with the aim of enhancing women participation in leadership at county and national levels. This project has considerably contributed towards the overall uptake of leadership by women in Kenya, particularly at the county level.

Ahead of the 2017 General Elections, UNDP Kenya collaborated with the County Government of Taita Taveta, together with CSOs, FBOs, the Judiciary (DPP, Paralegal) and the National Government to develop "Sub County Action Plans." The action plans were adopted by the county as road maps that will help address bottlenecks that hinder women from taking up political leadership. This has resulted in the transformation of community attitudes towards women seeking elective positions, while at the same time empowering communities socially and politically through gender mainstreaming; for inclusive governance.

Ms. Lydia Haika, the newly elected women representative of Taita Taveta County, is a first-time seeker of an elective post, and a beneficiary of the leadership program. She hopes to use the opportunity in parliament to influence policies that will be beneficial to her community. With a background in business, Ms. Haika promises to champion for increased allocation of the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF) so that it can adequately cater for as many women and youth groups within her county and nationally.  Though her position is a creation of the two-thirds gender rule, Ms. Haika joins the lower house where women on the ballot paper had almost the same chances of being elected as their male counterparts. According to Kenya’s electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, (IEBC) 1 in 6 women who contested for the Member of Parliament seat won compared to 1 in 7 men candidates for the same position.

As Ms. Saineye Rinha, another trainee from the program shares, “The training gave us a lot of insight on what women are capable of doing in the society and communities and the changes that they can bring as leaders. We've learned how to interact with communities to ensure that the needs of the people are prioritized as well as addressed adequately." After the training, Ms.  Rinha resigned from her job as Taita Taveta County Government’s County Principal Information Officer, to vie for a political post. She notes that; “I made this decision because I wanted to be at the frontline in contributing to discussions and policies that can ensure better service delivery to the people. This was my motivation.” Although she wasn’t successful, she is proud to be one of the two women who contested for the position of Member of County Assembly (MCA) in Mahoo Ward, Taita Taveta County.

Ms. Constance Lundi, a long serving woman leader in the county administration, attributes the record number of women who ran for elective posts in Taita Taveta County to the spirited sensitization of the community spearheaded by UNDP leadership trainees in support of women political aspirants. “After engaging with communities at grassroots level, we slowly began to see a behavioral change. The electorate eventually embraced and identified themselves with female candidates,” she notes.

While women as political leaders are yet to be fully embraced in many parts of Kenya, the gains from the 8 August 2017 General Election can not be ignored. It is a big step towards attaining gender parity.

With the female population being over 50% and 46.6% of the 19.6 million registered voters, women's contribution to democracy in Kenya is extremely important. Therefore, to leave no-one behind, there is need for political will and commitment to create democratic spaces that deliberately sustain women's engagement beyond the electioneering period by all stakeholders, in order to affirm their representation at the table and make it count.

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