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Home / Achieving Woman

The evolution of women in politics

 First woman MP Grace Onyango (Photo: Denish Ochieng/Standard)

The history of women questing for political leadership in the country is an interesting chapter in Kenya’s democratic evolution and shift towards the inclusion of marginalized groups.

There is more to be celebrated than denigrated in the struggle women have had to undergo to have a voice and be heard at a table of men.

Leaders of the feminist movement have had to endure a lot before a way was made for them to have a presence in either the National Assembly or the Senate.

But the discourse of the feminist struggle has been waning over the years and the women’s movement that was vibrant in the 1970s through to the 1990s dedicated towards total liberation of women is now playing lip service to the cause.

The Kenyan Parliament had no woman representative between 1963 and 1969.

It was in 1969 that Grace Onyango was elected as the first woman MP representing Kisumu County.

The fight for women in power has become even stronger with the number of women coming up to try their luck in public service growing.

In 2013 for instance, a record of 86 women parliamentarians joined the National Assembly, a historical achievement by any measure having come from close to zero representation in the house.

However, long before equality, inclusion, and diversity became common concepts, and women could actively demand space in sectors dominated by males in the country, there was a group that stood out. Their voices and deeds represented what their fellow women desired.

Many barriers blocked them from reaching their goals, but they pressed on and they stand out when it comes to politics. 

When politics was politics, there were pioneer women who were trailblazers at a time when it was hard for them to have a voice, but once they stood up to speak even the male dominants remained at bay paying attention to what they had to say.

Women who ensured that they were included and contributed greatly to matters affecting the country, something that could be slowly fading away.

 Nyeri women Rep Priscilla Nyokabi (Photo: Boniface Okendo/Standard)

In an interview with the Standard,  Nyeri woman rep Priscilla Nyokabi said that as much as the number of women in politics is impressively growing, more needs to be done to include more women so that they can have enough backing and their voices be heard.

“There is strength in numbers as we demand our rightful place and our rightful share. But when they are misrepresented and cannot pass certain laws then it weighs us down. The first fight is for numbers. We need more women in power so that we get the advantage of passing bills in parliament,” she said.

She added, “Women need the power to sit in influential positions in the country. It’s due to that power that we will be involved in decision-making giving them a voice,”

Ms Onyango broke the African cultural taboos that confined women to the kitchen by elbowing her way to national politics at a time when it was unthinkable for women to stand before men, let alone lead them.

The fight, struggle, and voice of the likes of Grace, Martha Karua, Wangari Maathai, Julia Ojiambo, Charity Ngilu, and others paved the way for the many women that have served as legislators.

They pushed strongly in the open domain and against all odds fought for women’s place in leadership and politics.

 Charity Ngilu became Kenya’s first female presidential candidate (Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri/Standard)

The fight

For instance, Ngilu, in 1997, ventured above the political parapet to scratch at the highest and hardest of glass ceilings by becoming Kenya’s first female presidential candidate.

Though she became fourth and did not win the top job in 1997, Ngilu left her mark on the political landscape.

She is currently the only woman selected by President Kenyatta to spearhead the Building Bridges Initiative

Martha Karua was pushed into politics by what she has termed as “the repression” of the Kanu years and in 1998 she became part of the team that drafted the 2010 constitution of the Kenya act.

During her time in the 90s, Karua held the opposition role and is remembered for her daring guts and standing her ground.

It’s the unapologetic boldness that has shaped Karua’s reputation as a no-pushover over the years.

Despite the significant change in political culture over the years, it’s good to note that there is still much to be done in the space of gender equity.

The actualization and implementation of the two-thirds gender principles have been the biggest headache in Kenya.

Article 27 (8) of the Constitution provides that the State shall take steps to ensure that not more than two-thirds of members of all elective and appointive positions are of the same gender.

 Martha Karua became part of the team that drafted the 2010 constitution of the Kenya act (Photo: John Muchucha/Standard)


In the current cabinet President, Uhuru Kenyatta has only appointed five out of 21 to head various ministries in his government.

Defense Cabinet Secretary Amb. Raychelle Omamo, Sports, Culture and Heritage Amb. Amina C. Mohamed, Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning Farida Chepchumba Karoney, Public Service, Youth and Gender Prof. Margaret Kobia, and Sicily Kanini Kariuki for Water, Sanitation and Irrigation.

From the 47 counties, only three women were elected as governors, a milestone having that men have been the county bosses for the longest time.

From Bomet the late Joyce Laboso, Kitui Charity Ngilu, and Kirinyaga Ann Waiguru show a change in women's inclusivity.

Elected senators are only three Fatuma Dullo from Isiolo, Susan Kihika Nakuru, and Margaret Kamar Uasin Gishu counties.

Senate standing committees which are 14, only two committees, education by Senator Alice Milgo and cohesion by Senator Naomi Shiyonga are chaired by women.

Of the 15 national assembly departmental committees, only four are chaired by women.

Education and research Florence Mwikali, Finance and National planning Gladys Wanga, Health Sabina Chege and Lands Nyamai Rachael Kaki.

 Ministry of Defence CS Raychelle Omamo (Photo: Mose Sammy/Standard)


In the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, the positions of County Woman Representative, as well as nominated leaders in both the Senate and National Assembly, have been abolished.

The 204-page report instead proposes that a total of 94 senators comprising one man and one woman be elected in each of the 47 counties.

It also proposes that the holders of the governor and deputy governor positions be of the opposite gender, with the deputy assigned a county executive committee portfolio.

Should the changes be implemented, political parties will have to provide the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with a list of candidates that complies with the two-thirds gender rule.

But the question remains on whether abolishing the Woman Rep seat would help cure the gender rule headache.

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