Barriers to women leaders participation in Kenyan elections

Joyce Laboso Governor elect Bomet County
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According to the United Nation’s resolution 1325, there is a need to protect and promote the rights of women to participate in the electoral process. This right is not confined to voting but also includes the free of expression and the right to vie for any political seat and to hold public offices in all levels of government. However, in Kenya just like other parts of the world women participation in elective politics has been a challenge with many barriers placed before them.

Here are a few of the barriers that women aspirants face in Kenya;

Gender based violence

Electoral violence has been a pre-dominant feature in Kenya since the introduction of multi-party politics in the early 90’s. However, the violence that occurred in 2007/08 remains the worst that this country has ever witnessed. Over 900 cases of sexual violence were reported during this period with women being the prime targets.

The threat of sexual violence remains the biggest barrier to women participating in the electoral process and as such ascending into leadership. Female candidates together with their supporters have been targets of various forms of violence and discrimination by their male counterparts in order to stop their political ambitions. Here are a few examples;

In the run up to the elections Nyeri senator aspirant Sheila Githaiga was attacked by more than 30 men armed with batons and machetes. According to her, the violence was arranged with an aim of pushing her out of the race through threats and bullying. An MCA aspirant Caroline Wangai claimed that her male rivals were capitalising on gender issues, spreading notion that women should not be allowed in leadership. Joyce Laboso who has won the Governor’s race in Bomet faced snide comments about being married to a guy from a different tribe. Whereas Esther Passaris was held hostage and roughed up by goons at the University of Nairobi.

Cultural Beliefs

In most African cultures, men are viewed as natural born leaders while women are consigned to servitude. With their main duties being child raising and household chores. The typical African society is highly patriarchal and this has served to discourage women from becoming candidates while also lowering the probability of winning elections.

The socialization of the girl child in many societies is also to blame for the perceived inabilities on the part of women. We find that from a young age, girls are taught to aspire to be good home makers and not to be good leaders or to change the world as compared with the boy child. However, this is slowly changing for the better with the girl child constantly being told that she can achieve anything that she sets her mind on.

Income levels

Lack of resources places many women aspirants at a disadvantage in running for political office. Running a political campaign in this day and age can be an expensive affair with expenses including nomination expenses, printing of fliers and hand bills, hiring of public address systems, mobile phones, agents’ fees, campaigners’ expenses, hospitality, transportation, accommodation and subsistence for candidate’s team.

For a candidate to foot the campaign bill, they must either be loaded or have supporters with deep pockets. Not many women are able to foot their own campaign bills due to the fact that in the business field just like in politics they are also disadvantaged. Women are also generally viewed as weaker candidates due to their gender hence they face an uphill task convincing backers that they would be successful candidates.

Party politics

In Kenya we find that most political parties are dominated by men who monopolize the decision making structures. These men are the ones who make decisions on who to back for the various seats and due to the patriarchal nature of our society this is means a man will always be favored. Women are also not elected into power positions within the party structures because of the gender bias.

This has meant that the major parties have few women candidates who vie for elective posts which translates to fewer women leaders. The Gender Principle in our constitution was supposed to address this issue but however parliament was dissolved before passing the necessary law.

Despite facing many hurdles, several women candidates have won in various elective seats. In a first for Kenya, there will be 3 women governors that is Joyce Laboso in Bomet, Charity Ngilu in Kitui and Anne Waiguru in Kirinyaga. There are also 3 women Senators Susan Kihika in Nakuru, Professor Margaret Kamar in Uasin Ngishu and Fatuma Dullo in Isiolo not to mention the women MP’s. This might not be much but it goes to show that Kenya as a country is making steps in the right direction.

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