It has been a tough couple of weeks for all of us. I say weeks because almost everything was put on hold until after elections. Well now that elections have come and gone what next? Last week I wrote about the challenges women voters face in Kenya during elections. I am happy to report that I voted with no inconvenience. I was thrilled to see that pregnant women and women with children voted so quickly and with ease. Unfortunately the after election period was really bad with cases of riots and some demonstrators being shot by police. Now that some normalcy has returned to the country we should not drop our guard just because the dust has settled. There are issues pertaining to women and politics that need to be dealt with by the leaders that are now in place.
The UN Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations member states. A look at the just concluded election shows some improvement in terms of women representation. We have 3 governors, 3 senators, 23 MPs and of course 47 women representatives. I do not have the numbers for women MCAs but the numbers so far are definitely worth celebrating. I know we still have a long way to go on issues surrounding women and politics but this is definitely some progress. That being said, quantity is not just the issue we should be looking at. Quality is just as important.
What do I mean by quality? For the next 5 years we should feel the effect of having these women in government. It is not enough to have numbers. There should be a tangible effect to having these women hold these offices.
- More bills on areas affecting women and children – it is said that no one knows where the show pinches like the wearer. Sheryl Sandberg in the book Lean In admits that she had never realized how pregnant employees struggled to walk to the office from far off parking until she got pregnant herself. Then she ensured there was designated parking for pregnant women near the office. In the same breath, there are issues regarding women that only women can truly appreciate. We would not have the ART (Alternative Reproductive Technology) Bill if it was not for Hon Joyce Lay. It is women who pushed the recent Breastfeeding Mothers Bill 2017. The women now in government should look into areas women struggle with and fix them now that they are in power. Like maternity leave for adoptive parents as well as women who’ve had miscarriages or stillbirths. Law surrounding surrogacy in Kenya. Child safety. Sexual abuse of children. And many more areas.
- Mentorship and an enabling environment for future women leaders – in 2022 the political scene should have more women and be even more “women friendly”. How this can be done is by having the women now in leadership mentor more women leaders. These women should create an enabling environment for more women leaders to rise. Have mentorship programs for girls. Create structures that make it easier for women to run. Maybe have a fund for trainings and campaigns? Since these leaders know the issues they battled on the campaign trail they can better equip upcoming leaders.
- Being felt in the area they were elected. Really being felt. In the past, leaders have been criticized for being elected and then never being seen until the next election because they all come to hang out in the city. This needs to change and our women leaders can lead by example here. Let that mama mboga feel the effect of you being their leader. Raise her issues and fix her problems. I know I’m being stereotypical here but women are sometimes more in touch with the people on the ground than men. To be honest I didn’t know the MCAs running in my area very well so I voted in a woman. At the very least she will keep the county streets clean. Again I apologize for the stereotype but a woman tends to notice that her area is dirty and needs cleaning and sometimes that is the start of being felt in the county.
- Passing on the experience by veteran women leaders. Even if women like Martha Karua and Joyce Lay (among others) were not re-elected, they have a lot to offer in terms of experience that can be passed on to those who are new. A sort of orientation. When this happens, less time is spent learning the ropes and instead more work gets done.
I am really happy that we have new faces this year specifically young women in the space. I hope those in leadership now will continually lead by example and make the space more friendly. That way women and politics will stop being a water and oil relationship.