- Serah Wanjiku was an MCA candidate in Theta ward, Juja constituency, her challenges ranged from mental to financial and sexual abuse.
- According to CRAWN Trust report in August 2022, the exclusion of women from politics is still common in Kenya – manifested in the August polls.
According to the Community Advocacy and Awareness (CRAWN) Trust report in August 2022, the exclusion of women from politics is still common in Kenya – manifested in the August polls. https://bit.ly/3enauKh
She took a moment.
Looked us straight in the eye.
Then her eyes turned red. In no time, tears started rolling down her cheeks.
“Sh15 million. I try to appear strong in public but I am bleeding. My family is bleeding. We are poor,” Roselyne Ochieng’ says as she struggles to fight back tears.
Our question about the money Ochieng', a former candidate for Embakasi Central MP in Nairobi, spent in her campaigns, opens fresh wounds.
Ochieng' has been trying her hand in politics since 2007, spending millions of shillings in the process, but has been unsuccessful.
She tells us that she and her family have spent more than Sh15 million to fund the campaigns, which has left them in a financial hole.
“We have borrowed. My husband has borrowed from banks hoping that one day we will win but that has not been the case,” she says.
Facing a host of well-heeled male candidates in the election, she had to keep up with the pace and splash the cash.
From hiring her own ‘men in black’ security to enticing the youth with cash to grant her access to informal settlements, Ochieng' says she spent a fortune.
“As a woman, I am different from men. There are some areas I could not jump over a sewer line. I had to be carried by my boys. That is money,” she says.
“I must pay them to protect me. To allow me to walk freely in the constituency, I must pay them. It is very expensive.”
After 15 years of trying, she's finally thrown in the towel.
“I will never try it again. Let it be. Let others try, I will support them,” she says.
In Marsabit, Gedhia Mamo was barred by elders from running for governor and pushed to run for woman representative instead.
The youthful politician says her community still does not believe in women contesting for a position as big as governor, a factor that has dashed many aspirations.
“I was told I could not vie for governor. You see that seat for woman rep, si ni ya wanawake? (Isn’t it meant for women?) You go there,” Mamo said during an interview.
“We have negotiated democracy in Marsabit, so a girl may be picked and be told that they will be a woman rep when politics is nowhere near their life.”
Serah Wanjiku Thiga, 31, was an MCA aspirant for Theta ward in Juja constituency. Her challenges ranged from mental to financial and sexual abuse.
She was among 20 candidates, 17 of whom were male; the other two were older women.
Prior to the party nominations, Wanjiku was part of a political party led by one of the Cabinet secretary nominees. She missed the party ticket and decided to go independent.
“I was the most popular candidate but to my surprise, no nominations took place and someone else, an older man, was offered the party ticket,” she says.
Wanjiku says she experienced low moments during the campaigns and quit most social media platforms as trolling took a toll on her mental health.
“During the campaigns, there was a day I was rushed to the hospital at 3am because of the emotional toll. I developed panic attacks,” she says.
Wanjiku did not give up but soldiered on. But she would get mocked because of her physical appearance and gender.
She hired a security person after a physical abuse incident.
“There was an attempt to kiss me forcibly, twice, while campaigning. Some even mocked my body size saying me ni mtu mdogo, nijaribu next time [I am small-bodied and should give it a try next time],” she adds.
Ochieng', Mamo and Wanjiku are among the thousands of women who either lost in the August 9 General Election or had their bids thwarted after spending millions popularising their bids.
According to the Community Advocacy and Awareness (CRAWN) Trust report in August 2022, the exclusion of women from politics is still common in Kenya – manifested in the August polls.
“We have continued to exclude over half the Kenyan population (women) and the youth who make up 70 per cent of the population,” the report states.
The report adds that people with disability, who make up a significant percentage of the population in determining the credibility of the elections, have also been pushed to the wall politically.
In the August polls, the numbers show that women’s performance was so low.
Only 29 women were elected out of the 290 single-member constituencies.
Even though the number was six more than those elected in 2017, it only represents 10 per cent of the membership of the single-member constituencies.
This is far much less than the minimum 33 per cent required to achieve the two-thirds gender rule in elective seats.
In the run-up to the general election, the IEBC pushed the political parties to meet the two-thirds gender rule in their nomination lists of aspirants.
In the Senate, only three women were elected – Agnes Kavindu (Machakos), Tabitha Karanja (Nakuru) and Fatuma Dullo (Isiolo) – out of 47.
This represents 6.38 per cent.
In the Nairobi assembly, the second largest legislative house after the National Assembly, only four out of 85 elected ward reps are women.
This translates to 4.70 per cent.
This is the case across all the 47 county assemblies, where the number of elected women MCAs is far much less than their male counterparts.
Out of the 47 governors, only seven are women.
They are Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Cecily Mbarire (Embu), Kawira Mwangaza (Meru), Wavinya Ndeti (Machakos), Fatuma Achani (Kwale) and Susan Kihika (Nakuru).
Although this was an improvement compared to only three elected in 2017, the number represents a paltry 14.89 per cent.
Kitui South MP Rachael Nyamai, who floored seven men in the August election to win the seat for the third time, explains the challenges women face during campaigns.
Besides possessing the ability to mobilise funds, men are rough and have all the time to campaign as their women counterparts retreat home in the evening.
“For my case they [men] would gang up and hire goons. I had to look for ways to deal with them. You have to really learn their strategies. They look for goons to fight, you must also look for people to protect you. The goons make noise,” she says.
“They (men) have some ability to put money together from wherever I don’t know. So they seem to be spending so much more,” the Jubilee MP says.
“They have more time during campaigns and in the evening they would go to the bar and continue meeting people in the bar.
“But for me, when I finish my campaigns, I go home to look after my children and the family. That is an advantage male candidates have over women.
"Somehow, they are able to sit and negotiate and agree that even if they are not the ones winning, let it not be a woman. They gang up,” she adds.
However, male MPs deny they have an added advantage, saying every candidate, gender notwithstanding, has an equal chance to convince voters.
“There is nothing like male candidates are favoured over women. We have several women who campaigned and ended up triumphant by winning the elections. There are women who are even forceful…the likes of Wanga, Kihika, Tabitha Karanja who competed against men and won,” Sirisia MP John Waluke says.
He insists it all boils down to one’s efforts during campaigns, adding that in politics there is no sympathy towards any gender.
“Everything in elections depends on your efforts. Nobody will sympathise with you just because you are a woman, you will not be given the seat on a silver platter,” he says.
Embakasi East MP Paul Ongili, aka ‘Babu Owino’, explains that Kenya's politics has set fair rules for women and men to compete.
He says it all narrows down to the constituents as, apart from the woman representative position, all other positions are open to women to compete against men.
“The rest of the positions is a matter of who will convince voters and whom the voters will think is best to lead,” Babu says.
He, however, notes that both genders still play rough.
Research done over the years has pointed to a number of challenges women face in seeking political seats.
They include exclusion by political parties, cultural beliefs that push women to the political periphery, inability to mobilise funds for campaigns and unwillingness of women to come out and contest for political seats.
“Sex stereotypes are among the most firmly entrenched obstacles to the elimination of discrimination, thus, largely responsible for undermining gender equity,” a report by the United Nation on women's involvement in politics reads.
“These cultural perceptions do not encourage women at all to actively participate in politics.”
Daisy Amdany, CRAWN Trust executive director, says in the August elections, the numbers show that women’s performance was so low that it did not even reach the starting point of a third representation.
“Men and women are different; women are unique, in that a woman’s concept of herself is beyond the individual. They think of their children, families and extended society. If women are allowed to lead, things will improve because they uniquely care beyond their self-serving needs,” she says.
“In the wake of the just-celebrated 12 years of the 2010 Constitution, which is an excellent document, one of its key pillars is the principle of inclusion of the previously marginalised groups, including women," Amdany says.
The Constitution provides that at the bare minimum, there should be a third of either gender in elected offices.
ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna says his party deliberately gave out tickets to women for various seats.
“As a party, we gave opportunity to many women and that is why we have a woman elected governor on the ODM ticket for the first time since 2013,” he says.
The party, he says, created a women’s league headed by nominated Senator Beth Syongo to champion the rights of women within the party.
This story was produced by the Star Publications in partnership with WAN-IFRA Women in News Social Impact Reporting Initiative