More hurdles as women break tough glass ceiling


Anne Waiguru (left), Joyce Laboso (centre), and Charity Ngilu, who will become the first women governors in Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The number of elected women members of Parliament is set to go up from 16 in the 11th Parliament to at least 23 based on results in the just concluded General Election, giving women a bigger voice in the House although still short of the required constitutional threshold of a third.

The number of elected female MCAs is also set to increase to more than 100 up from 84.

In both the House and the devolved entities, the female gender will still be vastly underrepresented in elected offices across the nation but women rights organisations say more Kenyan women have broken the barriers in politics than ever before.

Among those who have made it to the record books in the polls with awe-inspiring feats include three women each who will be governors and senators.

The women governors are former Devolution and Planning minister Anne Waiguru, who will be in charge of Kirinyaga County, Joyce Laboso, the former deputy parliamentary speaker, who is now the Bomet county governor elect and former minister Charity Ngilu who won the Kitui gubernatorial contest.

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Winnie Lichuma, chairwoman of the National Gender and Equality Commission, says the feat is historic.

“For the first time the country will have three women governors and senators each. This is a watershed moment for the leadership at the county levels and we wish to convey congratulations to the pioneer women governors and elected senators,” said Ms Lichuma.

“We have no doubt that their contribution will infuse the much needed  programmes and representation aimed at empowering both men and women and the vulnerable in the society.”

Ms Lichuma said the recent polls have recorded major milestones as far as the inclusion and participation of special interest groups in political representation is concerned. 

She said Kenyans had debunked the attitudes around patriarchy and negative gender stereotypes.

None of Kenya’s 47 counties, which manage local infrastructure, had been headed by a female governor, an influential position overseeing budgets worth billions of shillings. Nor was there any elected woman senator.

READ: Three women beat the odds to capture governors’ seats

Kenya has had East Africa’s lowest female representation in Parliament —at 19 percent — and women have struggled to make gains in the face of violence, intimidation and sexism.

Ms Lichuma said it was remarkable that in all regions, the women candidates were pitted against their men but prevailed. 

She termed this a “testament” to the fact that women of Kenya are steadily rising and taking their rightful position in society on pure merit.

“We note that the North, Eastern and Samburu regions have produced for the first time a female Senator in Isiolo County and two MPs in Ijara and Samburu West Constituencies,” she said.

The poor performance of women in Kenya’s political arena can be attributed to two major factors.

“Firstly, the Kenya’s patriarchal culture and secondly the Kenyan electoral system of the first-past the post,” explained Ms Lichuma.

The latter, she said, has never been known to deliver gender equality in politics.  

“While the Constitution provides for room for proportional representation by nomination through party lists as per Article 90, most parties are owned by men with little recognition of women into their management structures,” she said.

Despite the Constitution providing a favourable framework for achieving equal representation of women in politics, activist organisations barriers abound in translating legal provisions into tangible or concrete gains.

“To date the affirmative provisions of the Constitution lack a legislative framework to implement them and Kenya is yet to close the gender gap in political representation. Efforts to achieve a legislative framework for realisation of the not more than two thirds gender principle through Parliament remains elusive,” said Ms Lichuma.

Ms Lichuma said in the just concluded electioneering period many obstacles were faced by women.

This included the grueling nature of the campaigns which took a particular heavy toll on women candidates coupled with absence of strong structures to guarantee their security during campaigns.

Some female candidates, she said, lamented how male opponents descended to vulgar and abusive language during campaigns. 

Others decried the lack of support by their own party to vie for the post. 

“One candidate informed us that her party had declined to nominate her, forcing her to decamp to another party and she considered the move not good for her candidature,” she said.

The bulk of the candidates agreed that without financial resources and logistical support from their respective parties, the quest for leadership was near impossible.  

What next? Ms Lichuma says there is no short-cut for more women to break the glass ceiling in politics other than joining and getting to be strong members of the chosen political parties. 

“Women must believe in themselves and present their candidature without fear. Women must learn to lean in,” she said.

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