BREAKING BARRIERS

Amplifying coastal women’s voices in politics

Kenyan politics, especially at the Coast, has been thought to be a man’s field.

In Summary

• For many years, coastal women have been left on the periphery and rarely given a chance to feature in local as well as national discourses.

• In both factions of the political divide, voices of coastal women politicians are finally finding their way out.

Last weekend Kilifi and Mombasa hosted public rallies for the Embrace Team. Women politicians, including Mombasa Woman Representative Aisha Hussein and Likoni MP Mishi Mboko took centre stage. Other top women political leaders from various parts of the country joined in to forge a common front in support of their political positions.

During the same week, Nairobi hosted a rally by the Inua Mama team. Women politicians, including Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, gave their views. In this rally too, top women political leaders made known their expectations on the direction they felt the country should take.

In both factions of the political divide, voices of coastal women politicians are finally finding their way out. This is a big step in not only the emancipation of coastal women but also the democratisation of coastal and national politics.

 

For many years, coastal women have been left on the periphery and rarely given a chance to feature in local as well as national discourses. Coastal women’s voices were considered only when balancing the national outlook of political sides and not because they were considered crucial players. This is now changing and coastal women are becoming formidable members of political affiliations.

Typically, Kenyan politics, especially at the Coast, has been thought to be a man’s field. Women interested in venturing into politics have been scared of what might befall them. To begin with, the coastal society looks down on women leaders and considers any woman seeking political leadership as lacking ethics.

Various coastal communities view politics as a dirty game and no place for the woman, who is supposed to be the embodiment and custodian of communities’ morals.

This misinformed belief has led to many women shying away from active politics. On the other hand, the few who have braved society’s negative perception and come out to seek political positions have lacked economic capacity to challenge men vigorously.

At the Coast, politics has remained an extremely contentious subject. The mere mention of it amongst the womenfolk evokes emotions and divisions. Various coastal communities view politics as a dirty game and no place for the woman, who is supposed to be the embodiment and custodian of communities’ morals.

For instance, political campaigns in Kenya are marred by lies, name-calling and mudslinging—all locally considered to be unbecoming traits that women generally should avoid. Invariably, politics has generated conflict and bitterness. For women to get into politics, it would then unfortunately see them engaging in physical confrontations and clashes instead of peacebuilding.

The Constitution provides that one-third of all public positions must be reserved for either gender. This means that in all political, economic and social organs, particularly those that deal with public affairs, at least one third of their composition must be women.

Unfortunately in politics, particularly at the Coast, this is not the case. Out of the 26 elected MPs, only three are female. This represents a mere 11 percent. Out of the six senators elected to represent the Coast, none is a woman. This is the same for the governor's position–all the six governors are men. These statistics are a far cry from the constitutional one-third gender rule.

 

To amplify and empower the coastal woman in politics therefore, a spirited campaign to build the capacity of women leaders as well as public awareness on women’s ability to lead needs to be carried out.

As a region, Coast should mobilise civil society organisations, such as Haki Africa, to foster public goodwill for women leadership and rope in media to ensure they expand women’s political space at the county and national levels. Coastal politicians and community at large must be reminded that the new Constitution provides for the one-third gender rule and this must be respected by all.

Moving forward, civic and public education at the Coast must take on a new form: one that moves beyond mere events on the one-third gender rule to real conscription of autonomous rural and urban coastal women, organisations, independent initiatives and community women to support women in politics. Until coastal women are politically empowered, the region shall remain behind the rest of Kenya.