The extraordinary performance by women in the just-concluded elections is not only inspiring; it also elicits hope that the need for gender equity and equality in Kenya will cease being taken for granted in all sectors of development, including in politics and at policy level.
From the unprecedented numbers elected to the single-member constituency seats at the National Assembly to the seven county governors, three senators and many ward representatives, the election of these women is an affirmation of national progress. That may be slow but the upward trend at every election since 2013 is positive development.
Indeed, it matters that women numbers in the House—nominated MPs and the 47 Woman Reps included—should provide the two-thirds gender constitutional provision. Indications are, the statistics are still shy to provide the elusive requirement. The number of women headed to the National Assembly are 29, from 23 in the 12th Parliament.
In the Senate, the number is unchanged, at three. Isiolo’s Fatuma Dullo and Agnes Kavindu of Machakos, both of Jubilee Party, were re-elected in addition to the new entrant, UDA’s Tabitha Karanja Keroche of Nakuru. Prof Margaret Kamar, the outgoing Senate Speaker elected to represent Uasin Gishu in 2017, did not vie and is likely to make a comeback through nomination by Jubilee.
Whatever the numbers portend, the incoming administration has to fulfil its pledges towards inclusion of women in all aspects of leadership and gender balance. Specifically, implementation of the two-thirds gender rule is key. It is important that the new government respects its manifesto and fulfil the promise. It is the right thing to do.
History was made
And in the midst of the incredible victory by women, history was made. The election of Agnes Pareiyo as the Narok North MP is significant. Apart from being the first female constituency MP in the largely conservative and patriarchal Maasai community, Ms Pareiyo is a renowned women’s rights campaigner and staunch advocate against the outlawed female genital mutilation (FGM).
Narok is one of the top counties where the retrogressive ‘cut’ is prevalent—as “cultural practice” for “social acceptance”. The consequence of this is high numbers of teenage pregnancy, child marriage and motherhood. Pareiyo has been leading efforts to ensure that Kenya’s pledge to end the vile practice by this month comes to fruition.
After a failed parliamentary bid in 2017, Pareiyo was appointed to head the Anti-FGM board, whose main function is to implement the law that prohibits female cut. Her team has since put in a lot of work, notably increased public awareness programmes.
The election of Pareiyo, who also runs a rescue centre in Narok that hosts girls escaping the forced cut, must be the most remarkable and momentous. It has been a long journey for her being in frontline to sensitise and empowering her community to abandon the repugnant practice amid enormous barriers, like patriarchy. That she beat six male rivals to the seat, in a journey she aptly described as “torturous”, tells a positive story of triumph over discrimination against women and girls.
Noteworthy, too, and amazing is the election of outgoing Meru Woman Rep Kawira Mwangaza as the county’s governor. She not only conquered in a deeply patriarchal society that last elected a single-constituency woman MP in 1975 but also defeated a political giant in incumbent Kiraitu Murungi.
Similar history was made in Wajir, where patriarchy and “negotiated democracy’’ largely conspire to keep women off the political stage. The election of Mahfudha Abdullahi and Dahaba Yussuf as MCAs for Ademasajida and Banane wards, respectively, is a first.
Outstanding too is the entry into elective politics by young women. Bomet Woman Rep-elect Linet Chepkorir “Toto”, 24, and her 28-year-old counterpart in Kirinyaga, lawyer Njeri Muchiri, is exceptional and pleasant.
These and more cases are proof of the importance of affirmative action, awareness programmes and civic education, which are bearing fruit in having more women elected to the Legislature and governorship.
Ms Rugene, a consulting Editor is founder, the Woman’s Newsroom Foundation. [email protected]