How devolution has opened up spaces for women in leadership

The high political tables, once a preserve for vocal male politicians, is now a professional playground for women as they fill the missing link to region's development.

Since 2013, several women have defied the odds to serve in various posts birthed by devolution. Not even lack of enough financial muscle to compete in charged campaigns and elections has stopped women from going for top county seats.

While some have been elected County Assembly speakers, scores have taken the battle to wards and elected as MCAs. Others have been nominated by political parties to represent the region in various Houses.

But the elevation of Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga is the icing on the cake for women leadership and a demonstration of how women have come a long way in the devolved units.

Several leaders told The Standard that devolution has opened several spaces for women to thrive and is among the critical provisions that has inked the place of women in modern society.

They claim several women have emerged as leaders, transforming lives and are now a force to reckon. Nominated UDA Senator Essy Okenyuri said the region has competent women who can serve in several capacities. "We have educated, competent, hardworking and diligent women. The inclusion of women in decision making tables, furthers our economic, social and political progress," she said.

The 30-year-old Senator said with sustained combat against inequality and societal prejudice, everyone will embrace the struggle and appreciate that women are not limited to socially constructed roles. Among women who have served in key positions include former Kisumu County Assembly Speaker Anne Adul and Homa Bay County's Elizabeth See.

In a past interview, Adul said it was not easy to clinch the seat and challenged more women to take up available opportunities.

She played an integral role in helping set up structures used by the county assembly between 2017 and 2022.

In Homa Bay, Governor Wanga outmuscled political titans and is working to transform the county's economy.

When she walked into office in August last year, many were waiting to see how Nyanza's first female governor would steer her boat in devolution. She inherited a county struggling in nearly all sectors. The health sector was in a deplorable state, with almost all health facilities struggling to offer even basic health care.

But Wanga is going against the grain to demonstrate the influence of women leadership in public service.

In the region, despite the huge number of women, they are notably underrepresented in public service leadership.

And yet, when women are in decision-making roles, they wittingly prioritise areas that are fundamental to safe, stable, and thriving societies; health, education, youth development, and conflict resolution.

This is what perfectly defines Wanga, as she builds a foundation for the devolved unit. In the last few months, she has fast tracked several projects and appears to be reawakening the sleeping giant's economic potential.

Her efforts have been augmented by political goodwill of the region's leaders and the national government, which is also pursuing a number of projects in the region.

She said: "Our county is in a stable state and looking to better days ahead. We are committed to delivering on the mandate for which we were elected, department by department."

Upon assumption to the office and the introduction of the Cashless Revenue Collection System, the governor set a target of Sh1 billion as Own Source Revenue. So far, the county is doing an average Sh142.12 million monthly.

In March this year, all the 2,954 primary health volunteers began receiving their Sh2,500 monthly stipends, and a duly remittance of Sh500 to NHIF.

"I am counting on them to help us improve on the poor health indicators, including new HIV infections, infant mortality rates and gender based violence," she added.

In May, she commissioned a new maternity theatre at the county's referral hospital. For Nyamira County Woman Rep, Jerusah Momanyi, winning the seat for a second term was not easy but admits that women have grown in leadership. She said the society is now more receptive to women leadership.

In Kisii, three female MCAs have been lucky to make it to the county assembly for a second consecutive term, while one got her third term to the assembly through nomination.

All the four were nominated, representing gender top up. The assembly has a total of 71 MCAs; 45 elected and 26 nominated.

In the last County Assembly of Kisii, there were 22 women nominated through the Affirmative Action top up as is provided for in the County Government Act, 2012.

Carren Magara, Clare Obino, Bathsheba Sanaya and Isebella Nyaboke were lucky to get back to the assembly among the 23 female MCAs who were nominated to the assembly.

She says, last term, she fought against what she called oppression and discrimination meted on nominated MCAs by their elected male colleagues.

"By nominating women, it means we are giving them space to participate at the political table to create a gender balance. The energy of the now is here, and gone is the energy of yesterday, forever."

Ruth Manoti is among the leaders who had the prospects to thrive in Kisii politics. She left the newsroom in 2013 and actively became a human rights defender and a gender champion in the community through her Seeds of Hope organisation.

"We need to build ourselves more psychologically. Other lost their self-esteem and have huge debts. Politics is all about risks. I was almost sure of the nomination, but that is how life is."

Bombaba Ward representative, Beatrice Kerubo, who is the only elected MCA in both Kisii and Nyamira counties, says women leaders should be supported and viewed like any other leader who can offer leadership. "I resigned to venture into the murky Kisii politics. People were wondering why a woman would resign from a permanent job to try her hand in politics."