By John Harrington Ndeta
Statistics of women who made it to party lists for normal competitive seats in the forthcoming elections remain diminutive raising a red-flag amongst many Kenyans.
Women aspirants were technically locked out by the 10th parliament when it failed to pass laws that would have operationalised section 81(2b) of the constitution that says: not more than two-thirds of the members of the elective bodies shall be of the same gender.
The other intervening factors against women during party primaries included lack funds required as politics has becomes too expensive in Kenya; attitudes and perceptions about the place of women leadership and blatant violence meted out on those who came out to contest against men in the party nominations.
Preliminary party lists on IEBC websites paint a grim picture for women in the forthcoming polls. The parties’ lists indicate that less than 10 percent of all aspirants in the forthcoming polls are womenfolk; at least at the Presidential, Parliamentary and Gubernatorial seats.
Only one presidential aspirant; Martha Karua of Narc Kenya and less than 40 women countrywide were cleared to vie as Governors, Senators and Member of Parliament by their political parties. This departs from the letter and spirit of the constitution which says we should have a minimum of 155 less the 47 women representative seats reserved under the National Assembly.
Constitutionally, the total number of women who were supposed to be elected leave alone cleared to vie is thus 108 women.
Past elections in Kenya indicate that the number of women who are likely to win through the ballot will be extremely low. In 2007, only sixteen succeeded as elected Members of Parliament yet over 200 women were on the ballot papers. This time round, the list of women cleared by IEBC to vie for the post of Member of Parliament is less than 40.
Violence as a tool in elections
Not surprisingly, women bore the brunt of violence and no wonder they performed dismally at all levels of the primaries choosing instead to take refuge in the 47 seats reserved for women as County Representatives to the National Assembly. Over 100 women will be battling it out against each other for a chance to clinch the 47 positions reserved for them in every county.
But in the Party primaries held January 18th, the forthcoming elections started off on a sore note with a paltry 30 women cleared to battle it out with men for the 3 main elective seats at the nationals and county level.
In Thika for instance, a female aspirant faced all manner of electoral violence and intimidation that she had to literally re-locate from her Nairobi home to a hotel in Thika for days. Thousands of condoms and leaflets meant to demean her as a mother and portray her as a loose and irresponsible wife were distributed on the eve of the nomination day with her name as the distributor.
Yet another female aspirant in Kisumu decried the electorate who she says are not interested in issues and policies but monetary gains and handouts. The same issue of monies played out in various other places locking out good women leaders as their male counterparts who have the monies bought their ways to victory.
“My car was smashed by the youth in Nyalenda(Kisumu) when I stopped to address them just before the nominations. The mob started demanding for money. I only escaped miraculously,” says a female aspirant who lost the parliamentary bid to a male counterpart.
‘If you women don’t have anything to give us, go sit in the house,’ was a common statement in Kisumu whenever women aspirants tried to traverse the lakeside town seeking for support. The youth threatened to detain women aspirants at some points when they stopped to address them if they didn’t give handouts.
Many women aspirants also received threatening calls asking her to back off the race or face the wrath from their male counterparts.
Safe space for women and their supporters to monitor and report gender based violence during elections needs to be created to constantly highlight issues facing women candidates. It is incumbent upon IEBC and the security agencies to ensure full compliance to electoral laws as well as the laws of the land including the Constitution.
With nominations behind and elections barely a month away, the verdict is out: the goal of increasing the number of women in political leadership will remain a mirage unless the principle of affirmative action is respected and implemented. Let us join hands to elect leaders who will prioritize implementation of the constitution in regard to gender provisions.
The writer is the Media and Peace Coordinator,
Peace Initiative Kenya, a project of the International Rescue Committee