Women made a point at the just concluded polls

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There is finally a glimpse of hope in the struggle for women’s empowerment as more women get into leadership positions.

The just concluded, August 8 General Election proved to be a turning point after decades of vigorous and agonizing campaigns to convince the electorate to accord women space in leadership positions.

For the first time in a democratic exercise, women have made significant stride in closing the gap between them and men by ascending to elective posts that have long been held as exclusively male.

The women’s success can be noted as the first female legislator from North Eastern Kenya — the MP-elect for Ijara Constituency put it, “is attributable to long and selfless service to the community”.

Community service

Speaking after her victory, Sophia Abdi Noor said: “For the last 20 years I have devoted my life to the service of the people of Ijara and Garissa County at large. Together we have built more than 20 schools,
drilled boreholes to serve the people and animals. In the course of all this, I have met and interacted with so many people and this is the reason the people of Ijara entrusted me with this seat.”

She noted: “I am sure that now as their leader, I will initiate more development projects which will propel me to the Governor’s seat in 2022.”

The Constitution of Kenya also deserves credit in instilling confidence to the Kenya society that women are ‘equal leaders’ and play an indispensable role
in development and leadership. The constitution outlawed any public entity comprised of not more than
two-thirds of the same gender.

Springboard

The affirmative action women seats in parliament together with nominated slots have played out as rearing grounds for women to then battle for elective seats.

Former Kilifi County Women Representative Aisha Jumwa used her special seat as a springboard to successfully in Malindi Constituency.

Jumwa steeled herself up against a bruising battle from male chauvinists in her Giriama community who believed that ‘they would rather die’ than see her snatch the seat. She trounced Willy Mtengo who once threatened, “I better join forces with our enemies in government (Jubilee) than watch her ascend to this
seat”.

Nominated senator Martha Wangari used the position to become visible and successfully vied for Gilgil parliamentary seat in Nakuru County. Even though arguments were raised that Wangari is originally from Murang’a and only in Gilgil courtesy of her marriage, this did not hold any water.

Big win

The mother of all women success stories during the August 8 polls was in Murang’a County. The majorly agricultural county which is considered as the cradle for
the Agikuyu Community has seven representative seats in the National Assembly of which four (4)
were scooped by women including that of Women Representative. Three of whom won through competitive electoral process; Mary Waithira
(Maragua), Ruth Mwaniki (Kigumo) and Alice Wahome (Kandara) plus the one for the Women Representative won by Sabina Chege.

Their success is a testament that the derogatory adage that ‘they (women) will be nominated’ is misplaced.

Alice Wahome, who defended her Kandara seat, had gone through a series of tribulations before she first joined the National Assembly in 2013.

Party Politics

Wahome says: ‘The biggest challenge as a woman getting into politics was to understand how a party works. As a woman, you must make an impact and influence so that the party will appreciate your strengths.”

Secondly, she says that when parties form coalitions it becomes even hard for a woman to be seen, heard and be allowed to participate. Says Wahome: “I
was naïve in terms of what you need to do in a coalition  when I joined politics for the first time.”

Wahome recalls how she was violated, insulted and
harassed to a point of being hospitalized in the 2007 General Election. She says: “The ordeal was extremely humiliating because it occurred at the party of National Unity (PNU) headquarters on the day of the party’s nominations and eventually I lost.”

In the 2013 General Election, Wahome emerged victorious though it was another upheaval. She became the first female MP in a constituency that was once
led by a one-time powerful freedom fighter and post-colonial legislator Bildad Kaggia.

Wahome trounced Joshua Toro, a minister in the retired President Mwai Kibaki’s regime.

In Maragua Constituency, Mary Waithira, popularly known as ‘Wamaua’ stole the show when she beat the former area MP Elias Mbau and  incumbent Peter Kamande in the Jubilee Party primaries.

In the just concluded General Election, Waithira outdid five other contestants, all men, by pocketing more than a half of the votes cast to become the first woman MP in the constituency.

Formerly a KNUT official in Murang’a region, Waithira vied for Women Representative seat in Murang’a County in 2013 but failed to clinch the seat emerging second after the incumbent Sabina Wanjiru Chege.

She served as a nominated Member of Murang’a County Assembly (MCA) before clinching the parliamentary seat. In what seemed to have gained her unwavering support from the electorate, Waithira had been a defiant critic of the leadership of the area governor Mwangi wa Iria and had once led a motion to unseat him.

She must prepare to develop the area that residents term as ‘abandoned’ for the last five years.

In Kigumo Constituency, Ruth Wangari Mwaniki fought earnestly to clinch the seat that was left when the incumbent Jamleck Kamau, a two time
representative decided to unseat governor Mwangi wa Iria. During the Jubilee Party primaries, Mwaniki defeated 14 other contestants in a hotly
contested race. Coming in the heels of Jamleck, Mwaniki will have to work twice as hard to be able to eliminate the comparisons that will come out.

While ultimate vision of women empowerment crusade remains challenging, milestones attained during the August 8 General Election cannot go unnoted. The ball is now in the court of the few elected women members of parliament  who must work hard and outperform their critics to pave way for more women to be elected into leadership positions.