, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 19 – Coming from a minority community, young Roselinda Soipan Tuya had to redouble her efforts to clinch the County Woman Representative’s seat for Narok County.
Being among the first few Maasai women to vie and win a top elective post, the 34 year old mother of one had to break strong cultural and societal odds that undermine the worth of a woman.
It’s not just among the Maasai that a woman is regarded the weaker gender, but it is replicated across all Kenyan communities.
According to Tuya, becoming an elected Woman Representative was not easy.
In fact, it is tougher than becoming a Member of Parliament.
Just like other elected members, she had to vigorously campaign to convince men, women and the youth to vote for her.
Whereas parliamentary candidates were hunting for votes only in one constituency, Woman Representative’s had to garner votes in a county composed of several constituencies.
In Narok County, Tuya had to traverse six constituencies to sell her plans and policies. “The Woman Representative seat is even harder than that of MPs. We had to cover vast terrain.”
It was Tuya’s first time in politics after having been an advocate of the High Court.
Though she was involved in massive community development projects before joining politics, she says convincing men, women and the youth to vote for her was tough.
As a single mother, Tuya had to endure the harsh tactics played by her opponents during the campaigns.
They anchored their campaigns on the fact that she is a single mother whom they termed as incompetent and incapable of representing women.
“My women opponents thought that a young and unmarried woman should not be a Woman Representative, they said the seat should go to mature and older women who know how to relate with their husbands, who know to take care of their homes. I did not have to respond to them, I focused on issues and I was able to convince my supporters. I garnered the highest number of votes higher than the governor and senator,” she recalls.
Tuya believes that together with the 46 other Woman Representative’s and other women who will be in Parliament, myths and stereotypes around women will be core in dealing with impediments that dress down the strengths and worth of women.
“If we were to look at our male counterparts, nobody would pass that test. When a woman does something in the society, the punishment meted out on the woman is so off balance. The main thing used against women during campaigns is personal status. They bring moral thresholds that women have to uphold. It’s the double standards that women have to live with,” she explains.
She adds; “I thank God for the positions that we have now. As the first lot of Woman Representative’s, we have a golden opportunity to outdo biases against women. We can perform regardless whether you are single mum, you are unmarried.”
The lawyer who has a Masters degree from University of Washington and a Bachelors degree from the University of Nairobi is very particular on the things she would like to change especially in Narok County.
The Maasai community has rich and unique culture that in fact has given Kenya world recognition and made it a most preferred tourist destination.
However, behind this rich culture, one of the practices that hurt Maasai women and girls is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which has equally hit world headlines in the negative sense.
“The Maasai culture is a great culture, but then it must not go without interrogation. Culture is not static, it changes. The life of a girl child has to change. Early marriages are a result of FGM. Once a girl gets circumcised the next immediate thing that the family will think is that she is woman and needs to get married,” she regrets.
Despite having solid laws and policies that criminalise FGM, setting Maasai girls and women free from the dehumanising practice is still a nightmare even in the 21st century.
According to Tuya, laws alone will not work. Dialogue with members of the community especially the women circumcisers will be the most practical procedure in saving the girl-child.
Her master plan in responding to FGM is closely engaging local elders and the women who strongly advocate for the practice in successive dialogues that will make them understand that it jeopardises lives of women and in fact it is a total detriment to those who go through the agonising cut.
“We need to change this culture. People have talked about it for so long. We have had laws in place but the reality on the ground has not changed. These things are still happening every day. We need to know where we have been going wrong,” she explains.
She believes that if FGM is tackled, early marriages will equally come to an end hence giving women and girls the licence to enjoy equal opportunities enjoyed through education and formal jobs.
The elected Woman Representative deems that fighting FGM will not only restore humanity and dignity of the Maasai girls but also give them the courage to face the world that is no longer just domineered by men but also by reputable, intellectual and confident renowned women.
Tuya wants to be the role model in her society since she is among the lucky few girls who were saved from the ‘agony of the razor’ that gave her the leeway to pursue her education and career successfully.
“Where I come from, I am one of the few women who have had a University degree. I like to tell people especially men in my community, look at how far I have come, what if we gave this opportunity to many other girls in the Maasai community? I think we would be very far,” Tuya wonders.
“The only difference between me and that young 13 year old who gets circumcised and gets married off – is opportunity, so we need to open that opportunity for many other girls in my community. We don’t need FGM,” she asserts.
Tuya’s draws her inspiration from her seven year old daughter who gives her the determination to fight for the freedom of girls and women.
Her priority will be to ensure that girls and women get equal opportunities by removing the blocks that bar her Maasai female counterparts from living dignified lives.
“As I fight for girl-child empowerment, what I wish for her is what I wish for is what I wish for those girls, make sure she has quality education retains her dignity as a woman, make sure she is protected from meaningless cultural practices. I have a practical example of what I want to see in those girls in the community,” she pledges.
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