Culture and patriarchy conspire to derail women’s political aspirations

A woman aspirant in a charged political rally addresses voters. . Aspirants from various political parties, men and women have come out in their large numbers to contest for the elective seats of their interest. Photo Henry Owino
A woman aspirant in a charged political rally addresses voters. . Aspirants from various political parties, men and women have come out in their large numbers to contest for the elective seats of their interest. Photo Henry Owino

It is less than four months before Kenyans go to polls to decide on their next political leaders. Aspirants from various political parties, men and women have come out in their large numbers to contest for the elective seats of their interest.

Both genders may appear to have equal opportunities to contest for elective seats but in reality women aspirants are faced with a myriad challenges that range from socio-cultural to patriarchal systems.

Certain communities’ cultures completely do not recognise women rising up for political leadership and bars then from leading.

Patriarchal systems in society which prefer male to female dominance, use culture and tradition, as reasons to block women from ascending to positions of leadership and decision making.

Other issues include security, family responsibilities, religious beliefs, stereotypes and nature of Kenyan politics which remains male dominated.

Media coverage

When it comes to getting space in media outlets, women are more disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts. Airtime allocated for men and women in live shows or interviews conducted on national televisions are never equal. Most sources quoted and photographs used in print media are generally male dominated.

Majority of panellists in television discussions more often than not men, though in general these discussions are male dominated.   It has become yet another culture in media industry portraying women either as less enlighten or weak debaters.

According Media Council of Kenya (MCK) report on monitoring how media cover women in politics, women only get maximum coverage if the story is negative or they are mainly featured in beauty and fashion or life style advertisements.

Haron Mwangi, Chief Executive Officer Media Council of Kenya says since independence, only 50 women have been elected to National Assembly to represent Kenyans at constituency level. This is very low considering women constitute bigger percentage of population.

“In the run up to 2013 General Election, none of the women were elected as governor or senators apart from nominated senators. Majority vied for 47 affirmative seats secured specifically for women to address constitutional requirements of gender two thirds principle,” Mwangi observes.

Numbers

Noting that only 16 women made it to National Assembly as Members of Parliament (MPs) after battling it out with men in 290 constituencies, Mwangi says five were nominated as MPs and 18 as senators adding up to the 86 women in current parliament.

At grassroots level, 82 women were elected as Members of County Assembly (MCAs) in 1,450 possible numbers of Wards in the country. Mwangi pointed out this during media stakeholders’ forum on gender sensitive reporting held in Nairobi.

Currently, there are at least 12 women who have declared interests in gubernatorial seats in the 2017 General Elections However, this number is likely to reduce as elections draws closer and again depending on how political party nominations will be conducted.

“Counties that are on the lookout and likely to draw public attention and attract media are Kitui, Kirinyaga and Machakos,” Mwangi anticipated.

Otherwise the rest will depend on who the party picks as flag bearer as both aspirants are contesting on the same party tickets.

Since independence to the advent of multiparty politics in Kenya, any woman who wins an elective political seat is highly dependent on ethnicity, political party affiliation, family background and wealth. These are some of the strong beliefs society considers that has become part of its culture.

Insecurity

Elizabeth Ongoro, nominated senator in a political rally covered by the media. Photos: Henry Owino

Elizabeth Ongoro, nominated senator in a political rally covered by the media. Photos: Henry Owino

According to Mumbi Wettstein, a political commentator, many women who contest for elective seats feel insecure in political rallies as violence is always unleashed on them. She noted that whenever violence erupts in any political meetings, women frequently become the first targets.

Mumbi argues that perpetrators more often than not aim to sexually assault any woman in a political rally regardless of age or political party affiliation. She accused male rivals for regularly being behind the violence in bid to silence and scare away women.

On the other hand, Beatrice Elachi, nominated senator called on women to repackage themselves well for political office contest. She advised women not to behave like men but be aggressive and ready deliberate issues.

Elachi is on the opinion that any person, especially women, with interest in politics should not be emotional. “This is because it easily portrays one’s weakness that opponents would forever use to demean the woman in any public forum” she says.

Agenda

“I know women are strong willed despite numerous challenges they face while contesting for political seats. I would encourage more women to vie for these seats but let their agenda be national,” Elachi encouraged.

She noted: “As much as women may be concerned with grassroots based issues such as health, agriculture, water and sanitation, they must not forget it all boils down on national issues for policy makers to act upon.”

As much as the Media Council of Kenya blames journalists for being biased on gender coverage, Roselyne Obala, political reporter defended journalists saying men understand how media operates and are always ready to appear on television for interviews even within a very short notice.

Obala argued that men are usually more covered and given more air time compared to women because they are conversant with issues and up to date with current affairs. She said journalists also work on tight deadlines and audience read newspapers with in-depth stories not obvious details.

“Men politicians may not have many responsibilities as women so they may stay up to very late in the evening. On the other hand, women would want to go home early, meet with family members, cook and eat together among other things,” Obala noted.

Journalists’ advice to women in politics is to learn how media operates, be informed with current affairs, respond to emails or phone calls and remain ready to appear in media within a short notice.