One on one with a newly elected woman Member of County Assembly
As one of the 23 women leaders who were supported by the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), through the Wajibu Wetu Programme to strengthen women participation in political and non-political decision-making spaces.
Eunice who was elected on a Maendeleo Chap party managed to outdo popular Jubilee and Nasa affiliates, including the Party of National Unity which is popular in the Meru region. Having undergone a fierce political battle, Eunice shares her political insights, the ups and lows of her campaign and support she received from CREAW.
Patriarchy and Political Violence
Patriarchy and the subordination of women that is structured into society continues to contribute to women’s exclusion due to the persisting social resistance, repressing women’s leadership and lukewarm acceptance of women’s participation in political leadership. Gender based electoral violence in the form of physical harm; sexual harm and psychological harm is often directed at women as they campaign for political office to discourage them from running. Physical violence limits women’s capacity to gain contact with voters and sell their policies during campaign rallies, public meetings and meet the people tour.
Eunice attests that the campaign period was marred with verbal intimidation, abuse, propaganda and underhand tactics aimed at discouraging her from vying for elective positions.
“During the campaign period, I had the most difficult moments of my life. I was branded all sorts of names; from a prostitute to being accused of spreading HIV to a married man,” laments Eunice as she recalls the abuse and intimidation almost made her quit the campaign as she feared she would lose her family.
Eunice acknowledges that lack of resources works against the aspirations of many women to run for political office. For women to participate effectively in the political process a substantial amount of resources is required.
Access to resources is a key factor for political mobilization, especially in the increasingly money-driven Kenyan politics because money both reflects and shapes political competition. Candidates that are well funded are likely to defeat opponents who have less money. Political parties also tend to bias candidate nomination in favour of those who have accumulated personal political capital and resources. Women, as newcomers to parties and political processes, often have fewer resources and find it difficult to fairly compete.
Eunice states the just concluded elections felt like a business scheme, with a high expectation from the electorate in terms of monetary gains from the candidates, making it harder for women to compete. Eunice notes that in addition to the above, there is also maintenance of vehicles and transport costs. She says that one aspect of lowering the costs is trying to break the voter bribery culture which often takes a large proportion of a candidates’ budget.
Media and Visibility
Low visibility and lack of positive media coverage of women politicians is another reason for low women participation in political leadership. Media has a huge degree of influence with respect to set the political agenda of the day, influence public opinion and shaping the attitudes and perceptions of the public.
Eunice notes that the lack of media visibility has for a long time worked against women. She admits that media has formidable strategic power to enhance credibility and influence of candidates yet women struggle to receive positive coverage. The media more than often focus on women's personal lives and sensational coverage rather than their political agendas and development vision.
CREAW worked to build the visibility and publicity of the women candidates to give them a strategic platform to connect and engage with the electorates.
“All the 23 women candidates were hosted on media stations like radio to sell their manifesto and call for support,” says Eunice, a move that greatly aided their campaigns and connection with the public.
Capacity Building and Support
Eunice states intervention from CREAW who counselled her and encouraged her to go on, gave her the moral support to go on despite the tough hurdles she faced. She says CREAW through their project played a big role in building the confidence of women candidates.
Eunice states that due to socialisation, patriarchy and gender roles, most women lack confidence in themselves and they do not see themselves as potential leaders.
“It is not common for women to stand in public, engage a crowd and speak with confidence and courage,” says Eunice and adds, “But by the end of the trainings by CREAW, I not only organized but spoke in so many meetings on my political agenda,” states Eunice. This, she attests, helped her gain popularity with the electorates and gave her the victory.
Becoming a role model and a mentor
Eunice says that hands-on-training and mentorship is what many women lack in their political ventures and even for those who have had some mentoring, it rarely came from other women politicians, because there are few women who have excelled in political leadership.
Eunice calls on women in leadership to diligently use the positions they have to fight for the rights of women and to support and mentor other women with political aspirations. She argues that lack of support from women who have excelled in politics has contributed to low number of women in political leadership, by failure of women to do their job instead use their positions to enrich themselves.
Eunice states that she is currently providing oversight to ensure that the 30% government procurement quota be set aside for women is actualized and that will go a long way to empower women. She is also keen to mentor other leaders to increase the number of women in leadership .
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