Grassroots women strategize to push more women to elective positions
At Ikolomani Friends Church in Kakamega County, a group of ten women leaders hold their hands as they sing in solidarity to one key message mama apate haki zake (a mother should get her right).
As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, this group of women might not understand the day’s significance to their lives but one thing is clear, their work not only speaks for itself in the community but resonates with the theme of the year 2017; Be Bold for Change.
Their passion and vigour are an indication that the women are not only empowered but on a cause that seeks to leverage women to new levels in social, economic and political spheres.
Due to their diligence and commitment, they have won the recognition of county government in Kakamega who have donated a working space at the District Officer’s office to help them become accessible to all.
Coming from a patriarchal society, one of their engagement strategies is to promote women to get into leadership positions and decision making platforms. The women are also keen to ensure that more women are elected as members of County Assembly as well as in executive positions.
“We have already selected 29 women to vie for key positions in the county and we will back them to ensure that they succeed as women have the numbers,” says Ann Maliku, secretary to the women champions’ group in Kakamega County.
The women champions have been on this mission for the last ten years and are willing to continue despite challenges from male politicians. In the 2013 General Election, they positioned 21 women and only managed to have four elected in the county assembly.
“Had it not been for the grassroots women, I could not be where I am today. They have nurtured and pushed me to the top and have walked with me in my political journey,” says Hon Florence Machio, an elected Member of County Assembly, Shikomari Ward in Kakamega County.
Machio is confident and oozes a lot of hope in recapturing her seat in the forthcoming General Elections. She is proud to have a group of reliable women to back her up.
Her achievement in politics speaks for itself: “My people have so much respect and confidence in me. Besides I have implemented a number of community initiated development projects like roads and schools,” Machio explains.
These are part of 600 women champions in the county whose passion is to see gender equality and involvement for women at all levels. They are part of champions for transformative leadership model coordinated by GROOTS Kenya.
The model seeks to build a critical mass of grassroots community members; women, girls, men and youth who systematically and sustainably pursue increased quantity and quality of women’s participation in elective and nominative leadership.
The women are part of a national movement of grassroots women-led community-based groups (CBOs) and Self Help Groups (SHGs) in Kenya organized by GROOTS Kenya to participate in community development and decision making.
The group further demands for accountability from duty bearers. According to Ann Maliku, a leader in the group, even though they only managed to get four women members of the County Assembly, they negotiated with the County government to have some of the women nominated in the executive positions.
“We are making use of every opportunity to see that women enter into decision making positions,” reiterates Maliku.
Regardless of their political affiliations, the women work together to ensure that members aspiring for political positions succeed and bring positive impact in their communities. This way, women become respected and accepted as leaders.
“We often negotiate with those in power to have more women in decision making positions so that our voices are heard. This also helps the women to strategize for the next election,” says Maliku.
The women champions also participate actively in county business having seen opportunity in public participation hearings. Last year, they stopped the budget process as it did not follow the right procedure.
Even though the champions have prepared 29 women for elective posts in the forthcoming elections, fears abound that most of them will be edged out during party nominations.
This calls for change of strategy to ensure more women rise to power. One of the key strategies is mapping the polling stations and positioning at least ten female and male champions to safeguard the women’s votes.
“We are bringing male champions on board to help since we have realized that we need the support of men to win this war,” notes Maliku.
Despite their successes, the women champions have demonstrated that working together in an organized way will elevate the lives of women and their communities as a whole.
The ownership of the initiative by the women champions has yielded fruits and can be replicated in other counties.