Things changing in area where women are laid-back in politics


Nyaribari Masaba parliamentary aspirant Risper Maseme during an interview in Kisii town on February 4, 2022. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Since Kenya’s independence 58 years ago, nine out 13 constituencies in Gusii have never had a woman contesting for parliamentary seats.

This year however, Janet Komenda, Risper Kemunto Maseme and Violet Omwamba have vowed to fight it out with male counterparts in North Mugirango, Nyaribari Masaba and West Mugirango constituencies respectively.

Dr Komenda, a Psychology lecturer at Moi University, wants to take over from Joash Nyamoko, who was elected for the first time in 2017. Ms Maseme, an economist, wants to occupy the Nyaribari Masaba seat, which will be vacant soon.

A fierce battle also looms in West Mugirango, where Ms Omwamba, an Entrepreneurship graduate, wants to dethrone Vincent Kemosi, who is serving his first term.

Maseme and Omwamba are in ODM, while Komenda is yet to settle in an Azimio la Umoja-friendly formation after moving out of Ford-Kenya, whose leader is in the Kenya Kwanza coalition.

For the three female aspirants, theirs will be a historic test of woman power in a highly patriarchal political scene.

In the history of Gusii, few women try their luck in politics.

Wilson Otengah, a sociologist at Rongo University in Migori County, attributes the situation to the social system of patriarchy countrywide.

Prof Otengah says most communities are yet to fully recognise women’s place in sociopolitical development - the reason why most of them are conservative about vying against men.

“Communities have culturally been male-dominated. In a scenario where a woman would be seen to want a position in leadership, it would so obviously be viewed like she is looking to overshadow her husband,” Otengah says.

“We are awakening to call for gender parity. That’s why many other women aspirants should be out to fight for seats,” Ms Maseme says.

Komenda says most women with political ambition are suppressed either by their husbands or male contestants driven by male chauvinism.

“The absence of women in competitive politics has a lot to do with the negative cultural beliefs that always classified women as lesser people in leadership. The factor continues even to this day because very few women control family finances while many do not have the economic muscle to venture into politics,” Dr Komenda who teaches at Moi University says.

Women to blame

Ms Omwamba says women have themselves to blame for not competing against men. “We are past that age when women were limited in politics. The male chauvinism factors no longer hold in our society and every woman harbouring the ambition of becoming an elected leader should rise to the occasion,” Omwamba says.

In 2017, only four women from Gusii contested for various parliamentary seats. The four were Rael Otundo (Nyaribari Chache), Mary Ratemo (Bonchari), Lillian Nyabonyi (South Mugirango) and Gertrudah Nyatichi (Bomachoge Borabu).

The senator and governor seats did not attract any woman.

In the build-up to the 2017 elections, the only woman who had expressed interest in the Nyamira senatorial seat, Hellen Makone, was persuaded to drop her bid in favour of Joseph Kiangoi against whom she would have contested in the Jubilee Party primaries.

Ms Otundo, the first woman to vie for the Nyaribari Chache Constituency seat, has now upgraded her campaigns for the Kisii governor seat.

“I believe that women can offer better leadership than men. That is why we want to grab the opportunity this year,” Otundo says.

Theresa Bitutu’s bold attempt that saw her almost win Bonchari parliamentary seat, is also worth a mention.

That was about two years ago in a by-election prompted by death of her husband Oroo Oyioka, who was the area MP.

She contested on UDA party and emerged second, 1,000 votes behind winner Pavel Oimeke.

But why would women shy away from vying for elective positions in Gusii?

Ms Maseme, a nominated Member of the Kisii County Assembly, believes that women are yet to fully fight for their space politically.

Otengah says cultural values that used to exist, and which dictated the position of women in society, are fast getting eroded. He encourages women to run for leadership positions.

“Even the Kenyan Constitution has made it possible for women to fight for any position and be treated without discrimination. Even though this law is still in conflict with the social law, let them come out and be counted,” the scholar advises.