More women in Western Kenya have expressed interest in parliamentary and other seats in this year’s elections.
This is being seen as a step in the right direction, considering that no woman has previously won a parliamentary seat in Kakamega, Bungoma and Vihiga counties since independence.
The neighbouring Busia County has, however, produced three women MPs.
Besides Julia Ojiambo, the first woman to be elected MP in Western in 1974, Christine Mango, who was Butula MP between 2002 and 2007, and Mary Emase, who was Teso South MP between 2013 and 2017, few women have dared try national politics.
Prof Ojiambo, described as a trailblazer who defied prejudices, culture and traditions, entered the murky waters of politics dominated by men in Western and floored them to become Funyula MP.
Grace Onyango, who represented Kisumu, was the only female politician elected to parliament then.
Ojiambo appears to have set the bar high for other women, being a scholar and having served as an assistant Cabinet minister, besides being the chairperson of the Labour Party of Kenya.
In Bungoma, Cheptais Ward MCA Jane Chebet will be squaring it out with Fred Kapondi for the Mt Elgon parliamentary seat in the August 9 polls.
Ms Chebet, from the Sabaot community in Mt Elgon, was elected to Bungoma County Assembly, where she also served as Deputy Speaker between 2013 and 2017.
Chebet, a second time MCA, was first elected in 2013 on an ODM ticket but switched to Jubilee in 2017.
She has now found a home in Ford-Kenya, whose ticket she will be contesting against Mr Kapondi after defecting from UDA.
“There is no reserved position for a particular gender; the leadership of Mt Elgon is controlled by the voters,” Chebet said yesterday, and urged more women to go for elective seats.
Still, in Bungoma, Gender and Special Programmes Officer Caroline Buyela resigned to vie for Webuye East parliamentary seat that is held by Alfred Sambu.
Buyela, 39, will be competing against Charles Iyaya Wanjala and Ndivisi MCA Martin Pepela Wanyonyi.
Sambu has not declared if he will defend his seat.
“My competitors have been insulting me at funerals and other public functions. They have been telling the electorate that I am just a woman not worthy to lead, but that will not derail my ambitions,” said Ms Buyela yesterday.
She added: “As a mother, I know what bedevils our people. Voters should not elect a leader who will disappear after the elections.”
The mother of three says she is in the race to help vulnerable families and girls, besides initiating projects for poverty eradication.
In Busia, Mary Emase, having been elected in 2013 on URP, a party associated with Deputy President William Ruto, will be trying her luck again.
In 2017, she vied on the Jubilee Party ticket but lost to Geoffrey Omuse of ODM.
She faces a tough battle from the current MP and Governor Sospeter Ojaamong’, who has also shown interest in the MP seat.
She has exuded confidence in returning to parliament, saying the projects she initiated while MP speaks for themselves.
The aspirant who will be vying on a UDA ticket in this year’s polls said while MP, the constituency got its first tarmac road, first technical training institute and a university.
“Politics is about interests and the current crop of leaders has been a disgrace to us. I am returning to the MP post to show men how work is done,” said Emase, adding: “Let other women come out and show what they are made of.”
In Kakamega, former nominated MP Ruth Oniang’o will be vying for the Butere MP seat that is held by Tindi Mwale.
Besides the MP, she will also battle it out with the former area MP Andrew Toboso.
“Do not look at my age. I am 75 years old but I am still energetic, well educated and full of wisdom. I have seen it all during my illustrious career and the best thing I can do is to give back to the community,” said Prof Oniang’o.
She went on: “I can only be relevant to the community if I have a political office to enable me to participate in decision making and make legislations that will bring resources to my people”.
Prof Oniang’o has been asking the electorate to vote for elderly leaders, saying they have the interests of the people at heart, unlike the youth who want to enrich themselves.
Busia Women Rep Florence Mutua is seeking to succeed Governor Ojaamong and is the only woman aspirant going for the much-coveted seat in the region.
Former Bungoma Woman Rep Reginalda Wanyonyi is seeking to recapture her seat and believes that women stand a better chance to win parliamentary, senate, governor and ward representative seats.
“Culture and lack of respect for women have been a major problem in Western, but slowly we are overcoming that. We have female politicians who have declared interest in top county jobs and MP seats already, ” she said.
Ms Wanyonyi cited ignorance among women and fear of violence as factors that have eclipsed female politicians in the past.
“We would like political parties to open up and create a friendly environment for women to take leadership positions. I believe 2022 will be the beginning of the female politicians’ breakthrough. We shall not let men take away everything,” said Wanyonyi.
According to her, some women in leadership positions have also suppressed the voice of budding female politicians.