Time for pastoralists to ignore culture and elect women

Samburu women making beadwork that creates opportunities for pastoralist women in northern Kenya to translate their traditional skills into much-needed income at Kalama Community conservancy in Samburu county on May 10, 2022. [David Gichuru, Standard]

In 2021, the USA got its first female deputy president, Ms Kamala Harris, over 200 years after the first president was elected in 1789. Kenya might achieve a similar fete after tomorrow's election as three of the presidential candidates have chosen women as their deputies. I that the elections will boost acceptance of the female leadership and Kenya's goal of gender equity.

In my recent doctorate thesis, which was a case study of my home county of Wajir, on the communication dynamics for women participating in competitive politics, I note that although the population of women and men in Kenya is almost equal, political representation is heavily skewed in favour of men.

And despite an increase in the number of women taking part in competitive politics, Wajir County has only elected two female MPs since independence. The two were elected in 2013 and 2017, courtesy of the position of woman representative in the Constitution 2010. Sadly, some people skipped voting for the post as they were made to believe it was sinful to vote for a woman to lead the community.

Only men were elected to the positions of governor and deputy governor, all six constituency seats, and all the 30 ward seats for Wajir County Assembly. Consequently, the assembly had to nominate 15 women to meet the 'one-third' gender rule. This is replicated in other parts of the country.

We pray that this time round, a few more women be elected at constituency and ward levels, especially in the pastoralist communities.

For these communities to accept women leadership, there needs to be a major cultural shift focusing on communicating the successes of the current women in leadership positions in the national and the county assembly.

Religious and cultural leaders will be crucial in this shift. Engaging religious scholars is vital to demystify the narratives on women and leadership. Local leaders, including religious leaders, normally tolerate women leaders only when they vie for posts reserved for women and shun those who wish to compete directly with men for constituency or ward seats.

A gradual cultural shift will act as the starting point for developing a critical mass of women participating in politics.

Pastoralist communities are still strongly attached to their traditional systems and customs where men lead and women follow. Men exercise control, not only in resource management, but in social, political, and economic spheres.

The political leadership is determined by councils of elders in which women do not generally participate. Male elders take the lead in identifying and lobbying for their preferred male aspirants from their respective clans, and the decisions made are final. There is need to eliminate or revise teachings and cultures that do not support women leadership among pastoralists. I look forward to seeing many more elected women MCAs and MPs after tomorrow's elections.

Dr Hirsi is a communication consultant