Women with disability deplore rough political terrain

Nominated MP Dennitah Ghati in Migori. She represents the minority and people living with disabilities.

Photo credit: Ian Byron | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • While some have tried their hands in elective posts and won, others have blamed their failed bids on numerous hurdles that stood in their way and have called for a level playground.
  • This comes amidst reports of discrimination against people living with disabilities, especially when seeking elective posts.

Women living with disability face myriad challenges in their quest for leadership spaces.

Two months to the general election, they have expressed concern about the unfavourable political environment.

While some have tried their hands in elective posts and won, others have blamed their failed bids on numerous hurdles that stood in their way and have called for a level playground. This comes amidst reports of discrimination against people living with disabilities, especially as they seek elective posts.

“When it comes to women in politics, the terrain is rough. But it gets rougher when you are a woman politician with disability. After vying twice, I have realised that when people have a chance to do away with you, they can be cold and fast,” notes Ms Esther Onana, a nominated MCA in Migori County.

Ms Onana, who was eyeing the East Kamagambo MCA seat, emerged third in the ODM party primaries.

“Ahead of the primaries, the trail was tougher because of my condition. Despite being a crowd puller, I met a lot of resistance from voters who discriminated against my condition.”

Recounting the 2017 election campaigns, she says politics requires great personal resolve. In that election, she campaigned for Rongo MP Paul Abuor, who emerged the winner. The move earned her nomination to the county assembly.

Only the tough get going

“Politics is not for the faint-hearted, especially for women politicians having disability.”

Mrs Onana has had her disability since childhood and has been moving by crutches.

“There are things in politics that look normal, especially at a rally, and voters may not understand. Like I can never climb onto the top of a vehicle to address a rally. And where podiums lack rumps, I’ll never make it.”

Due to her condition, she is easily left out of rally programmes, she says, adding she can be edged out of a podium.

“First, women in Kenya have not been accepted as leaders. There are people who want to ask you who are your husband as if you need to belong to a man. Equally, politics being done in odd hours and the rough terrain cause discomfort to us.”

Her sentiments were shared by nominated MP Dennitah Ghati, who is representing PwDs in Parliament and is the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) candidate for Migori woman representative seat.

“In a place where a normal person can walk or take a motorbike, people with disability must use a taxi, which shows how expensive it is. Equally, a normal five-step staircases to a podium can be a marathon to someone in a wheelchair,” Ghati said.

She was first elected as Migori woman representative in 2013. However, a road accident at Ntulele in Narok County in March 2014 confined her into a wheelchair.

Ms Ghati currently represents the minority in the ODM National Governing Council and chairs the Commonwealth Parliamentarians with Disability, a global body.

“I am a woman with disability and I take great pride in that…I always tell voters that I may be in a wheelchair, but my brains and leadership qualities pass that. That way, I have been able to win in primaries and remain strong on the campaign trail,” she says.

Empowering aspirants

Ms Verah Robi, an activist with Women Challenged to Challenge, says political parties and election stakeholders have a lot to do. Her organisation has been empowering women with disability through the primaries.

She says they have worked with 735 women with disability in 20 counties and targeted to have at least 20 candidates picked for the August ballot.

“We fell short as we only have two candidates ahead of polls; most fell through the nomination process and we hope they will be nominated in both county and national assemblies, apart from other positions.”

Similar remarks were made by Ms Jacky Bartenge, another activist with Women Challenged to Challenge, who challenged political parties to reserve some party positions from the grassroots to the national level for persons with disability, besides the positions left for women and youths.

“We first need to ensure the election process, from campaign trails, nomination process and policy formulation and party structure is disability-friendly. We are happy that at major rallies, parties have been hiring sign language interpreters,” she says.

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