Women MCAs remain at a crossroads
County governments may have come as a good thing because they enabled devolvement of power and resources. However, that may be the only good thing about them.
While voters failed to elect women into the county assemblies, the law, through the affirmative action helped in ensuring that women were nominated to ensure gender parity.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides that in all elected and appointive positions of the county government, the not more than two thirds principle must apply.
However women who are in the county assemblies are facing a lot of challenges.
Rukia Subow, chair Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation, nevertheless says that there are many social issues that women members of county assemblies need to look at and raise. “It is the women who make policies at county levels and they are the ones who can change things,” says Subow.
She adds: “Women members of county assemblies can help women achieve leadership at lower levels. By 2017 we would like to have elected women as governors and senators.”
Subow reiterates: “As sisters we need to hold each other’s hands and become one because there is enough space in devolution.”
But will this happen so easily? No, says Happy Gloria Akhayalu, from Busia County. She notes that the women who are in the county assemblies lack exposure. “Although they have the potential to champion women’s issues, they still need capacity building to be able to articulate issues in more achievable ways.”
Akhayalu states: “Capacity building must be brought in from a very rudimentary level so that the women members of county assemblies can comprehend and be able to articulate issues.”
Akhayalu says: “It is important that those who know how to deal with women at the lower level be used to raise the members of the county assemblies up.”
She explains: “Your content can be of a different level if you are able to understand and sensitise the people you represent.”
However, Monica Amollo of Homa Bay County notes that women members of county assemblies are facing a lot of discrimination. “MCAs are facing discrimination by elected male colleagues,” says Amollo. She adds: “Discrimination by speakers is being experienced by the women because the former tend to lean towards men who are the majority.”
These sentiments are echoed by Elizabeth Masilla of Makueni who notes that the challenges between county assembly and executive are immense. “Most of the nominated women are not allowed to make contributions in the floor of the assembly,” says Masilla. She adds: “Even when there are meetings, they are not allowed to bring people from the wards.”
Masilla says that as nominated women, they are not allowed to express their needs and fight for fellow women or speak out.
However, Amina Abdi of Transition Authority says women members of county assembly can get lawyers to help them draft bills and synthesise them in a simplified manner for them to understand.
“County governors need to take capacity building assessment for everything that has been devolved,” reiterates Abdi.
The Transition Authority has transferred most functions to county assemblies and members of county assembly are expected to play the oversight role.
According to Abdi: “Women members of county assemblies have the role of setting agenda by doing baseline surveys.”
She adds: Women members of county assemblies need to build champions among themselves to create awareness and monitor their own agenda.”
Abdi notes that there are gains and spaces and it is upto the members of county assemblies to defend them.
Other encouraging words of advice came from Miria Matembe, a former member of Ugandan Parliament who notes that: “Kenyan women have been spearheading the struggle and the cause of women’s leadership but they have not been supported by the government and state.”
Matembe says: “Kenya has been overtaken by small countries yet she is the one who set the agenda for women’s liberation.”
She advices: “Women should not sit in positions of power to serve power. If you want to bring Africa on the correct path, men and women must exist side by side as God saw it fit to purpose.”
This is supported by Dorcas Gibran, chair of Sauti ya Wanawake Pwani who says: “As women, we must demand for our rights. Rights are not given and we must therefore, demand for them.”
According to Zahara Shee Maulid of Lamu County Assembly women in Lamu have not been able to come out to vie because it is difficult for them to be elected.
“At the ballot box women are still ignored. Only two women were elected because of devolution and that has made women more visible,” says Maulid. She adds: We still need a lot of advocacy for men and women to understand the importance of electing women.”
Maulid notes that religion allows women to do all that they can do including being involved in leadership, business and education.
Culture is the barrier to women’s access to leadership as well as inheritance,” observes Maulid, noting that lack of gender parity led to seven women being nominated in Lamu County courtesy of devolution.
According to Elizabeth Ongoro, chair of the Senate Women’s Association: “Enhanced women’s representation at national level has a trickledown effect on the counties.”
She explains: “Let us redirect our efforts towards ceiling loopholes of corruption and not look at women’s representation as an expense.”
The same sentiments are echoed by Winnie Lichuma who notes: “Privileges being enjoyed by members of the county assemblies must be enjoyed equally across the board.”
Lichuma reiterates: “Kenyans voted for the constitution because of devolution and inclusion and equality cannot be realised without the other gender.”
They were all speaking at a conference on Women’s Leadership and Devolution organised by the National women’s Steering Committee in conjunction with National Gender and Equality Commission and Action Aid..