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Forget our vote without signed deal, women say

By | February 14th 2012

By Stephen Makabila

It’s now official aspirants of political offices who wish to win the support of women voters, will have to commit themselves in writing.

Women leaders display the charter during its launch in Nairobi. Women voters have declared demands to political aspirants. [PHOTO: ANDREW KILONZI/STANDARD]

To get a slice of the rich women voting bloc in the coming General Election may only be secured by one conditionality: commitment to the national women charter launched a couple of days ago.

Thus, unlike in past elections when women were lured with khanga lessos and a kilo or two of sugar, political aspirants seeking women votes now have to sign the Kenya National Women’s Charter, with a commitment to actively contribute to the attainment of its objectives.

The new initiative is part of efforts lined-up by women to strengthen their participation in elective politics, with the ultimate target being to hit the one-third gender constitutional provision at national and county levels.

The charter developed by ‘Mwamko Mpya, Uongozi Bora’ Consultant, Prof Maria Nzomo through the initiative of Women Empowerment Link, recognises the fact that women are still discriminated against and marginalised in politics even under the new Constitution.

Affirmative action

Gender minister Naomi Shaaban and Constitutional Implementation Commission chairman Charles Nyachae, both of who spoke at the launch on January 27, 2012 at the Bomas of Kenya, said women need to put-up a strong fight for elective positions

The Tenth Parliament has about 10 per cent women representation, trailing far behind the global average of 18.8 per cent in national parliaments.

"We have embarked on disseminating the 17 Articles of the charter in the 47 counties to prepare women to take a plunge in elective leadership. Anyone seeking women votes must sign a commitment to our charter, to uphold all the 17 Articles," said Mrs Grace Mbugua, WEL director.

That women are serious this time round was evident in those who graced the launch, among them Water minister Charity Ngilu, Kenya Women Parliamentary Association chair and assistant minister Linah Kilimo, and MPs Dr Joyce Laboso, Peris Simam, Cecily Mbarire, Prof Hellen Sambili, Millie Odhiambo, Sophia Noor and assistant ministers Elizabeth Ongoro and Wavinya Ndeti.

Gichugu MP Martha Karua, who is the only woman to have launched her presidential bid and hit the campaign trail, was absent with apologies due to other engagements.

Though the Constitution has a one-third gender equity provision for parliamentary and county representation, modalities of ensuring this is realised remain a major challenge not only to women, but to the Cabinet and CIC.

WEL, Kewopa and other women empowerment NGOs have stepped up mentorship of women perceived to have leadership qualities and ability to venture into elective politics.

Mbugua noted through the National Women Leadership Platform of Action 2012, 94 young professional women had been identified and mentored to contest various seats in the coming elections.

However, this figure looks unconvincing given women have, for example, to manage 120 seats out of the 360 in the 11th Parliament to meet the gender provision under the Constitution.

In the 2007 General Election, for example, 269 women ran for parliamentary seats, but the current parliament has only 22 women, inclusive of those nominated, from a House population of 222.

The first mentorship programme was held in Mombasa last October, organised by Kewopa, where women MPs lined up more than 60 potential women leaders across the country for the programme.

Kilimo had then noted that women MPs would go on scouting for enough ability among women professionals in the country.

"We have a lot of goodwill from the UN-Women and even the Parliamentary Service Commission to champion Kewopa activities in the interest of the Kenyan women," Kilimo said.

According to Mbugua, strategies put in place by women leaders in the country could see them win at least 130 of 290 constituencies.

She says focus would be in Western and Nyanza regions, which never had a single elected woman MP in the 2007 elections.

In counties like Nakuru, women have already hit the road, with sensitisation campaigns.

Stipulated roles

Former Naivasha MP Jane Kihara, however, says despite decades of gender activism, gender sensitisation, capacity building, lobbying and mobilisation, Kenyan women seemed still hesitant in taking up the roles stipulated in the supreme law.

Mrs Kihara who has declared her intension to contest the Nakuru County women representative seat, says the basic constraints women face as they attempt to participate in politics, though occurring in varying magnitudes in different parts of the country, remained similar.

"The challenges want us to think beyond numbers and to examine what women politicians actually do and aspire to do", she added.

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