What you need to know:
- Tigania East MP argues that he is not against the Mwangaza because of her gender as he is the only male politician who publicly campaigned for her during the last election.
- Nominated MCA Lucy Mukaria, who backed the impeachment of Ms Mwangaza, says “the gender card was wrongly used at the Senate.”
- Nyaki East MCA Kinyua Muuna holds that male supremacy is at play in Ms Mwangaza’s leadership frustrations.
The Senate hearing on the impeachment of Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza has revived debate on the extent of gender biases in the county.
In the buildup to the proceedings, women leaders opposed to the governor intensified a campaign to make it clear that her impeachment had nothing to do with her gender. But Ms Mwangaza’s supporters maintained that she had done nothing to warrant impeachment and that she was being targeted for being a woman.
The video recordings of Njuri Ncheke elders, Tigania East MP Mpuru Aburi and young men chanting epithets against Ms Mwangaza helped her prove her case that gender bias was at play. But despite condemnations from senators and other leaders, Mr Aburi maintains that he is innocent and was misquoted by the governor.
Misogyny? Not me
Speaking for the first time after the Senate voted to save Ms Mwangaza, Mr Aburi said he will be moving to court to sue for defamation. “I am a husband and a father of girls and have faith in women’s leadership. The video was edited and altered to mislead the Senate. What was played at the Senate is shameful and should be condemned by all Kenyans. I demand an apology from the governor for lying to the Senate,” he said.
The MP argued that he was not against the governor because of her gender as he is the only male politician who publicly campaigned for Ms Mwangaza in the last election. “The governor should come out clean and tell Kenyans that she lied to the Senate. She edited my words to make them sexist. If she doesn’t apologise, I cannot forgive her.”
Ms Gakii Mbui, who unsuccessfully vied for woman representative in the last election, also backed the claim that the videos were edited to whip up sympathy from the senators.
“The county assembly impeached the governor on the strength of seven grounds and none of them was about her gender. The fact that the Senate cleared the governor does not change the reality that she has failed in governing Meru. Mr Aburi should immediately move to court to clear his name,” Ms Mbui said.
But Flora Igoki, who faced gross violence in 2007 while vying for North Imenti parliamentary seat, said the Senate proceedings brought to light the prevalent challenges of patriarchy and male chauvinism in Meru.
“Meru has struggled with engrained gender biases, and the recent incidents only underscore the need for change. The inappropriate actions witnessed during the Senate proceedings, including the flashing of a stirring tool and the use of disrespectful language, not only shows the seriousness of the matter but also perpetuates a harmful culture that goes against the principles of respect and equality,” Ms Igoki stated.
She called for an enhanced gender equality debate in Meru to foster respectful and inclusive participation of women in leadership.
Former MCA Mwirigi Karinga said the impeachment was a calculated move by male politicians to remove Ms Mwangaza to secure their 2027 political ambitions.
Meru Gospel Ministers Network chairperson Kiogora Magambo said Meru is a patriarchal community where male politicians have yet to accept defeat. He said the statements by Mr Aburi are deplorable and unacceptable.
“In this day and age, we cannot have people thinking ill of women leaders. Gender should not be used to punish other leaders. Urge anyone who thinks like that to cease and desist,” Bishop Magambo said.
He argued that gender is largely used against women who seek political seats in Meru. “I urge male leaders to accept women's leadership. If you lost an election to a woman leader, give her time to deliver on her manifesto. The issues that were used to impeach the governor were administrative and can be solved any day,” the cleric said.
He said following the Senate decision to exonerate the governor, all residents should focus on supporting her to deliver on her mandate.
However, nominated MCA Lucy Mukaria, who backed the impeachment of Ms Mwangaza, said “the gender card was wrongly used at the Senate.”
“While unfortunate, the statements by Mpuru Aburi had nothing to do with the county assembly’s case. They were used to whip up emotions, yet the legal issues raised had been proved,” Ms Mukaria said.
Majority Whip Jim Muchui said there was nothing patriarchal about the impeachment. “We have many women leaders in Meru and they haven’t faced the same. We even have an elected woman MCA and she hasn’t faced any male chauvinism. That was just a card to defend herself,” he said.
“In politics, there are differences, the fact that Mwangaza would be having differences with one of the leaders who is a man should not be taken that it’s all men who had differences with her.”
But Nyaki East MCA Kinyua Muuna holds that male supremacy is at play in Ms Mwangaza’s leadership frustrations. “If you look at our political history, only one woman has been elected to Parliament, that is Karimi, who was elected in the 70s. But then her term never ended. It was cut short by the same male dominance,” he said.
Annarita Karimi made history in 1975 when she beat five men to become Meru Central MP. But her leadership was short-lived. According to a 2019 article in the Standard newspaper, Ms Karimi regretted her political ambitions.
Before joining politics, she was a headteacher at St Mary's Girls High School in Igoji, Meru. The article says Ms Karimi got “into the bad books of powerful forces in government who immediately set out to clip her wings”.
In 1978, an audit of the accounts of the school was done covering her tenure. A total of Sh56,510.40 was said to have been lost. She was later convicted by a Meru Resident Magistrate’s court of two charges of theft and this earned her a two-year jail term. She unsuccessfully appealed against the judgment at the High Court and at the Court of Appeal. By the time Parliament was dissolved in 1979, she was still pursuing her appeals, which were to shield her from losing her seat.
Gender equality practitioners say uprooting “toxic masculinity” would take more than sensitisation. “I can tell you for sure there is a lot of patriarchy in Meru…some statements made by the local leaders (exhibit) toxic masculinity,” said Fredrick Nyagah, the national founder and chairperson of Men Engage Kenya Network.
“We need to achieve gender transformation. Meru men have to accept that a woman can be a leader and if she has weakness, they should help her, not use it to bring her down.”
International gender specialist Everlyne Komba said violence through harassment or name-calling is a cultural tool used to entrench patriarchy to avoid or stifle women's leadership. Eliminating this oppressive system requires a change in men’s mindset, she said.
“Patriarchy is not a person. It is an oppressive system that evolves. It’s covert, but Aburi chose to be overt,” she says, adding that MP Aburi’s case provides an opportunity to “challenge and prosecute patriarchy”.
“We should see Aburi condemned, prosecuted. We should even see him lose his seat. We should see him punished for it to be transformative,” she says.
She noted that the political environment in Meru is too rigid to allow for negotiation. “The men have just set out to frustrate her. And if negotiation was to happen, then the change must start with the men themselves. They must appreciate women's leadership.”
The Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (Fida-K) issued a statement on November 9, 2023, indicating that it would be taking legal action against leaders who have perpetuated sexual and gender-based violence against Ms Mwangaza.
But what goes through the mind of a person like MP Aburi?
“We live in a patriarchal society where men have their way. Even if there has been a lot of sensitisation, we still see a lot of women harassment…debasing a woman to the lowest level to subject her to the ultimate embarrassment,” says Prof Catherine Gachutha, a counselling psychologist.
“The man is feeling like he has the power to do it. The person who is a perpetrator of violence is certainly using their assumed power against the other person they consider to be a subordinate because she is a woman.”
She urged the media to continue highlighting violence to push for an end to it.