Society still not ready for women leaders, TIFA report shows

Women Leaders address the media on the two-thirds gender rule after their meeting at PanAfric Hotel in Nairobi on November 10, 2020. [Boniface Okendo,Standard]

As commentators and analysts debate the endless possibilities bound for this year's General Election and what that might mean for the nation, one thing we can be sure of is that Kenya will continue to fall short of achieving equal political representation for women at all levels.

This year's International Women's Day (IWD) comes with a timely theme tagged #BreakTheBias, and there's no better place to apply than in leadership positions.

As presented in a report released on Monday by market research company TIFA, the gender gap in the political arena reflects poorly on our nation.

According to the report, only 179 women managed to clinch elective seats in the 2017 general elections against 1,910 positions that were up for grabs.

The number looks worse when you consider that out of the 179, only 47 were elected in the positions of women members of the national assembly (women representatives), seats that were left for only women to contest.

Only seven per cent and nine per cent of women were elected as Senators and Members of the National Assembly respectively.

And even where women had the highest success rate, it was not in a directly elective position; 18 per cent of deputy governors were women.

In every other seat, over 90 per cent of the winners were men.

But women got a bulk of the nominations, with 650 out of the 747 nominated Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) being women. 18 out of 20 nominated Senators were women.

This was a case of women failing to make it in the polls but finding a way into power through their party hierarchy.

The analysis shows that only 19 per cent of Kenyans mention a lady as a potential running mate for either of the two leading presidential candidates.

For ODM leader Raila Odinga, 70 per cent of the respondents feel that the ideal candidate should be a man while for Deputy President William Ruto, 67 per cent suggest a man would make a winning pairing.

When it is specified that the running mate should be from the Mt Kenya region, the odds for women rise dramatically.

For Ruto, it rises from 19 per cent to 41 per cent, with a female running mate's potential for Raila rising from 19 per cent to 32 per cent.

But all is not lost, it turns out Kenyans are optimistic about the prospects of a woman holding the position of deputy president or speaker. 

The report pointed out wide and varied barriers that hold women from winning elective seats.

For example, 50 per cent of participants voted lack of encouragement and support from their community as the key reason for not electing women.

Lack of financial support and confidence and the burden of domestic responsibilities were also cited.

Ranking lowest was lack of experience and necessary academic qualification, ranking at 23 and 16 per cent respectively.

Worldwide, women carry a disproportionately high burden of poverty.

Interestingly, the research findings show that in Kenya, women are considered more effective in representing the needs of the poor as compared to their male counterparts. 

Both genders were considered at par in managing budgets and expenditures, although women were reckoned to have more integrity to resist corruption compared to men. 

"This means that voting women could lead to an increased focus on poverty alleviation and better political leadership values," says the report.

The report findings are a nudge to #BreakTheBias.

It encourages everyone to develop a greater understanding and sensitivity towards gender bias and be more aware of its existence.

It calls on citizens to know how gender bias plays out and have the courage to pinpoint and call it out each time.