Following the Centre for Research, Training and Publications (CRTP) research on Women, Democracy and Conflict Resolution in five counties in Kenya (Nairobi, Mombasa, Turkana, Bungoma and Nakuru), a validation workshop was held on 29th September 2022 in Nairobi at the Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations.
A total of 29 participants were in attendance (26 females, 3 males), the majority of whom had been engaged in the research during the data collection exercise in Nairobi County.
The session began with a brief introduction of the Centre for Research, Training and Publications and the objective of the validation exercise and the roundtable meeting. This was followed by the overview of the Women, Democracy and Conflict Resolution Project, aimed at finding ways of implementing the United Nations Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.
The session that followed was the presentation of the findings by the lead researcher in the project. She started by reviewing research objectives, gave a brief background to the project, and presented a breakdown of the findings of the thematic areas tackled during data collection. The key highlight of the presentation were key trends in the thematic areas, most notably that women’s participation in politics had significantly increased especially during the 2022 General Elections held on August 9th 2022 and that this had translated to tangible benefits for both women and girls.
Participants’ reactions to the presentation
The majority of the participants, while acknowledging that there has been significantly greater participation of women in politics, pointed out continuing limitations to women being involved in politics. These concerns had also come out in the findings and were a confirmation of what the research had gathered. Key among the challenges mentioned were political violence against women including but not limited to physical abuse, and lack of visibility of women in the mainstream media. One participant stated that, “Women have been denied the opportunity to appear on the mainstream media and air out their issues. Recycling of usual faces deemed as the opinion shapers of women such as Daisy Amdany has been the key trend. When you seek to know why other women are not involved in key discussions involving women there are a number excuses given out by these media stations”. While sharing her experience one participant stated that, “When I was appointed in the Jubilee party as an official, there were a lot of rumours as to how I secured the position. For instance some people alleged that I had a relationship with one of the top officials.” This however did not demoralize me as I never had anything to do with my so- called lover”. Such intimidation and shaming she experienced was not an isolated case. Lastly, cultural biases and patriarchy has been a key challenge to f women’s participation.
An aspirant for the MCA seat in Nakuru East Ward added her voice: “We still have a long way to go. I was an aspirant in the just concluded elections and I experienced sexual harassment from the bigwigs of the political parties. I was hoping that the current Governor being a woman would assist but she only referred us to the local Member of Parliament who was asking for sexual favours so that you could secure the nomination certificate. Additionally, marriage has been used as a tool against women. People would cheer you up but when conversing in low tones would ask if I am married.”
In addition to the above, the former Ziwani member of county assembly in Nairobi while encouraging the aspirant from Nakuru shared her experience in the political arena as follows, “My experience in politics has been a bitter sweet relationship. I have been an actor and following my success in the film industry I decided to venture into politics. This was driven by the fact that I wanted to encourage young people from where I come from that it is possible for one to make it through as being an informal settlement impossibility is almost the second name. When I was elected, I came to realize that the system that operates in the counties is totally different. Whereas you would have an agenda of what you want to do for your people, you find that there are many stumbling blocks and some of them are placed by your fellow women in the Assembly.”
Another aspirant that vied for the Mathare Member of National Assembly seat added her voice of some of the challenges she had encountered by noting that, “I am have experienced harassment also but fortunately not physical abuse. I however thank God that having grown in the ghetto helped me develop thick skin. I did not have a lot of money like the other contestants in the race but I managed to be the forth in the race yet I was an independent candidate. When it comes to matters of I saw a case in Mathare where a woman candidate that had been physically assaulted. Lucky enough it was able to get the attention of the media but what of those cases that never get media coverage?”
Key gaps identified by the participants include the lack of effort to eliminate gender bias during nominations by political parties, and lack of proper mentorship by pioneer women politicians. While discussing this, the Nakuru aspirant expressed her disappointment by stating that, “The older generation of women politicians have really let us down as they never hold the hands of the upcoming crop of young politicians, which is one of the things that make them easy targets of the male politicians.” However countering this assertion, the former Ziwani MCA stated that, “It is not entirely true the pioneer women refuse to guide or mentor the upcoming young politicians. Some have supported their fellow women only for them to end up stabbing them in the back thus they decide not to ever support any other woman again. Therefore before we can criticize them we have to understand their experiences in the political sphere.”
Lack of ownership of resources by women, though they have access, lack of capacity by women on matters technology, an assessment of whether there is a women’s constituency voting bloc that can be used to the advantage of the women, were other issues. While emphasizing this point, a participant opined that, “After the nomination of the Martha Karua as the running mate for Azimio, there was the ‘Martha effect’ which to some extent influenced the election of women in the country with Nakuru County being an example. Whether this translated to votes for the coalition is debatable and therefore I think there is need for research as to whether there is a women constituency voting bloc among the electorate.” Lack of psychosocial support for politicians who go through the election cycle is another problem. Additionally, it was the participants’ view that the laws in place have done little or nothing to deter the harassment of women.
The session ended with a presentation from an Advocate of the High Court on the issue of the 2/3 gender rule. Whereas the rule has been mainly associated with women, the Advocate corrected the narrative, stating that it applies to both genders. Within the context of women’s leadership, it was her view that not much had been done to ensure that women are well represented in matters of leadership. Giving an example, she referred to the advisory given by the former Chief Justice on the dissolution of the 12th Parliament due to its failure to adhere to the 2/3 gender rule; but this was never acted upon by Former President Kenyatta. It was therefore her call to the participants to be champions of women’s leadership and to pursue their ambitions unrelentingly.
- We need an evaluation of the sort of empowerment that women really need to be able to effectively participate in the political sphere.
- Provision of platforms at the grassroots level for women to be able to coach each other on matters leadership is needed.
- Need for consistent civic education on the essence of women leadership. (This should include examinations of how culture – including religion – contributes to patriarchy and sexism in public life).
- Women that win elective positions should endeavor to perform and discharge their duties.
- A deeper understanding of the Kenyan voter will be a critical aspect for women who intend to engage and participate in leadership.
Figure 4: Participants’ group photo
Whereas women’s leadership has taken root, even in the rural areas, more efforts need to be put in place so that hindrances that have long existed for the effective participation of the women are dismantled. This however requires a good strategy by the women themselves as they have long been accused of being their own enemy especially when it comes to leadership.