Pollyne Owoko, 33, is a co-founder and the executive director of The Forum for Young Women in Politics. She has been actively involved in politics since 2005 and is passionate about creating space for young women in politics. She spoke to Njoki Chege
Listening to Pollyne Owoko speak about young women and politics is eye opening. Her mastery of the country’s political climate is impressive, maybe because it is an issue she holds close to her heart.
As the co-founder and executive director of the Forum for Young Women in Politics, Pollyne is directly involved in mobilising young women to actively participate in public spaces that are predominantly perceived as masculine. The forum is also involved in peer mentorship, empowerment of young women in public skill building as well as networking and linkages.
Just this week, the Kenya Supreme Court ruled that the one-third-gender representation rule is not achievable in the March 2013 General Election, but would be progressively implemented to be fully realised by August, 2015.
Pollyne believes the onus is now on young women and be bold enough and take their positions in the country’s political climate.
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“There are numerous opportunities for young women in politics,” says Pollyne. “The Constitution has secured our representative rights and we are trying to create safe spaces for young women in politics.”
Creating space for young women, Pollyne reckons, is not just about the affirmative action and nomination, but actually getting young women to vie for the elective positions.
“It is sad that there may not be enough women to occupy theses seats, but it is also important that women movements in the country insist on quality of leadership, because leadership is not mediocrity,” she says.
Leadership, she reckons, is about making important and informed decisions. This is why women must up their game and get the education and knowledge they require to drive this country forward.
“You need that education and knowledge to sustain an effective debate. That is the focus that women need to have in joining politics, not just entering into politics for the sake of fulfilling a certain number,” she says.
Pollyne knows this too well. In 2007, at barely 27 years of age, she contested for the Makadara parliamentary seat and although she did not win, she left the race with several valuable lessons. Next year, she will, for the second time in a row, contest the Makadara parliamentary seat.
In October, young women in politics supported by Youth Agenda approached the Minister of Justice and the registrar of Political Parties with a petition to amend the Affirmative bill. This amendment was to include young women aged between 18 and 35 in the nominative and appointive positions in politics and government.
About 400 women, including Pollyne, marched around the streets of Nairobi carrying a banner that read, “Fifty per cent of all positions allocated to women should be reserved for women under 35 years. Give young women an opportunity for fair representation through nomination rules of political parties.”
“Purple zebra essentially means that for every woman above 35 years nominated by a party, a young women must be nominated as well,” says Pollyne.
The whole idea is to ensure that young women get chances in both appointive and elective positions in political parties, elections and civil service — which should appear as often as white appears on a zebra.
“We did this because if we do not push for our space, nobody will hand it to us on a platter. Besides, this kind of arrangement is important for inter-generational equity.”
As Pollyne explains, young women in politics are tossed about between youth and women seats. The truth of the matter is, a young woman below age 35 is as deserving of an elective or appointive seat as an older woman.
Says Pollyne: “We deserve to be in that discussion. There is a serious generational gap in women in politics and this issue has to be addressed now.
“I have learnt a lot since 2007. People of Makadara have watched me grow politically and I am mature now. Over the years, I have built more networks and learnt a lot,” says Pollyne.
In her efforts to promote women empowerment in her constituency, Pollyne founded the Wema Foundation in partnership and support of Pangea Network, an organisation that trains women in informal settlements on business skills and supports them through a revolving fund. The organisation has spread its roots in Mukuru, Kibera and Huruma.
“A lot needs to change in economic empowerment. I believe economic empowerment is paramount for any democracy to grow. Hand-outs are unsustainable and this is why it is important to give women and youth important skills to enable them meet their basic needs,” says Pollyne.
In partnership with the Youth Agenda, Pollyne has taken a keen interest in training the youth on the constitution, through a programme known as, “Get involved constitutional learning platform” — Vijana Tujipange.
On challenges young women in politics face, Pollyne says everyone faces challenges in any field. This is why challenges should not be an impediment for women eyeing political seats. However, she confirms that resources have been a major challenge for young women in politics especially because of the cultural belief on women and property ownership.
The task ahead for Pollyne is more daunting than ever this time round, as she is going head to head against more resourceful candidates — the big boys — but she remains unfazed in light of all this.
“I believe this race is about issues, visibility and presence. It all boils down to how you articulate your issues. I have exerted my presence in Madaraka for the past seven years and I understand their issues,” says a confident Pollyne.
As a single mother of 13-year-old daughter Francy, Pollyne has her hands full. Pauline reveals that her daughter is especially excited by her mother’s political ambitions, so much so that she always mentions her mother to teachers, friends and anyone who cares to listen.
“Francy appreciates the fact that I’m a politician,” she says, “When she was born, she found me in politics and she has known no other life.”
While Pollyne appreciates her daughter’s support when it comes to politics, she is very careful about mixing politics with family. This is why she does not take her daughter with her on the campaign trail.
“Campaigns are intense. They are stressful, tiring and frustrating, certainly not good for a young girl,” says Pollyne.
As the party nominations are just around the corner and the campaigns grow more intense, Pollyne’s schedule is about to get tighter than ever.
“I have come to empower people within my circles to help me. There is value in delegating duties, but I have a very strict regime and I always ensure I set aside time for my daughter,” she notes.