Women Candidates Face Discrimination In Kenyan Elections

Women Candidates Face Discrimination In Kenyan Elections

Kenyan Member of Parliament Peris Tobiko is on the last stretch of a campaign to retain her seat when voters go to the polls on August 8.

Running under the ruling Jubilee Party in Kajiado East, a county 80 kilometres south of the capital Nairobi, Tobiko is one of few female MPs in a national assembly dominated by men.

Winning the seat in 2013 made her the first Maasai woman MP in history.

She fought a tough race against her opponents that included threats and curses from Maasai elders saying it was against tradition for women to take up leadership positions.

This time Tobiko is campaigning on a proven track record.

“The manner in which funds have been utilized in Kajiado East has amazed everyone. People ask me if the government has given me extra money compared to what other constituencies get. I did not get any extra money, I have only managed what was allocated to me, and made sure it serves you well,” she said.

Tobiko has been lauded for introducing a number of development projects, including drilling boreholes to provide water for residents of the semi-arid area, as well as empowering women and the youth.

The 42-year-old mother of four grew up in a community where educating girls is not always a priority and parents marry off their daughters at a young age.

She says her own experience gave her the resolve to become a lawmaker.

“In my father’s third attempt to marry me off… I was going to be a fourth wife to a man who is my constituent today, and he has three wives. I was going to be the fourth wife. It’s not easy.

“Women don’t have a say and I thought I could become a voice and encourage others to come out and speak and encourage them to really make their free choices and also be able to give direction to society. We don’t always have to be given direction, we can also provide very sound decisions,” Tobiko said.

Kenya has East Africa’s lowest female representation in parliament at 19 percent and women have struggled to make gains in the face of violence, intimidation and sexism.

In East Africa, nearly two-thirds of Rwandan lawmakers are women, and in neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania women make up more than a third of legislators.

In Kenya, a fifth of lawmakers are women – the same proportion as Saudi Arabia.

Since entering politics, Sarah Korere has been insulted, shot at, slapped by a colleague and cursed by tribal elders but that hasn’t fazed her.

She currently holds a seat reserved for women but is running on the ruling party ticket to take the place of a male opposition lawmaker in her native Laikipia, an arid region in northern Kenya plagued by violent clashes over land.

Korere’s experiences are symptomatic of a wider hate campaign against women candidates in Kenyan politics, women representatives say.

She said that since becoming a legislator in 2013 she had been shouted down and called a prostitute at public meetings.

“It has been four years of very rough and very tough times for me and at times I was even threatened. My vehicle would be shot at and actually one time my vehicle was shot at, at a place called Dol Moran but that has not yet stopped me,” she said.

She now pays for up to 100 men to accompany her to public events, in addition to her armed government bodyguard.

Hopes for better female representation were raised in 2010 when the constitution guaranteed women a third of seats in all political offices, but the male-dominated assembly has repeatedly frustrated efforts to pass a law to enact the quota.

Activists are hopeful that following Tuesday’s election, there will be more support in parliament to pass the law.

Chairperson of the Federation of Women’s Lawyers of Kenya (FIDA) Josephine Wambua Mong’are said “When you now look at who is offering themselves for elections now, you will see most of the women who weren’t in the affirmative seats are actually offering themselves for election. Because once they get there, they get empowered.

“They get to realize they can actually run for constituency seats. This is what we are saying that given an opportunity in leadership, whether through nomination or top up mechanism, these women will eventually grow bolder and stronger to now go and be able to say I want to be a leader.

“And this we have seen in the last five years. We have a lot of women who have migrated from the country women seat into constituencies.”

Women make up only 16 percent of the 10,910 candidates competing in next Tuesday’s elections, the electoral board said.

None of the presidential candidates is a woman.

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