By Caroline Katana
With her shy demeanour and disarming smile, Hawaa Abdul Salim is the type of person you will likely never see angry no matter the circumstances.
We spoke about her dream to become a politician in 2017 in the Ukunda ward in Kwale County.
The mother of two recounted how tribalism and failure to offer her body shuttered her dream during party nomination.
As we progressed with the conversation a more sombre and reflective tone took over every step back into the past with deep-seated anger in the now serious-looking Hawaa.
“At that time I did not think that women have to give in to men to be awarded party nominations. That was my first time in politics, I was not that strong, being the only woman out of six candidates chasing the Jubilee party nomination,” She told me.
Hawaa represents a few Kenyan female politicians who are firm and respect their gender.
The game of sex in politics is not mentioned despite being used as a tool to pull down upcoming female politicians.
“I narrowly escaped the trap because my husband stood by my side during my campaigns,” Said Hawaa.
Generally, women in Kenya account for 12.18 per cent of all candidates and 49.12 per cent of all voters. Numbers that are flagged as underrepresentation of women in the political environment despite the little progress realized.
So far 11 counties in Kenya have elected women members of the county assembly (MCAs) with Kisumu recording the highest number of five female MCAs.
During the nomination exercise of every election year in Kenya, the registrar of political parties registers big numbers of women who want to run for elective seats but do not succeed despite using their resources.
This happens to many women in politics in Kenya but no one wants to speak out about it, terming it a willing seller willing buyer business, an abuse that is killing women in politics slowly, their dreams and demeaning gender.
There is no data detailing this form of abuse or even acknowledging its existence.
Mary Mlunga Mwachiti a human rights defender and peacemaker leading Nawiri Community Based Organisation in Kenya affirmed bad culture and traditions that deny safe space for women.
“Women lack the required support from society, and the community is yet to embrace women’s leadership. Gender-based violence in some parts of Kenya is a deal organized by community members and remains unreported due to bad cultural practices. Women are not allowed to make decisions in society, how are these women going to succeed and win political positions if the society does not recognize them,” Posed Ms Mwachiti.
She noted the need for women’s organizations to start sensitization forums in the communities to shed light on the importance of women’s leadership and end gender-based violence against them.
“ I want to acknowledge that we women can bring change to the community and that is why I feel it is very important to be involved in decision-making tables to realize our potential to rescue our society,” Emphasized Ms Mwachiti.
Matuga Deputy County Commissioner Lucy Ndemo pointed out the empowerment of women as an important force in countering this form of abuse urging women to be strong enough and stand their ground.
“Whoever laughs at you, keep on fighting with your determination because as a woman if you don’t fight for your family, for your marriage, for the society the evil will prevail, fellow ladies we have a big task ahead of us,” Affirmed Ms. Ndemo.
Of more than 45 women who vied for different political positions in Kwale County in the 2022 general election, only two were elected, Fatuma Achani as the county governor and Hanifa Mwajirani as the member of the county assembly representing Ramisi ward.
Fatuma Achani was the first female Muslim governor in Kenya and Khanifa Mwajirani became the first female elected as MCA in the Kwale county assembly since the inception of devolved governments in 2013.
A clergy, Bishop Peter Mwero, condemned the abuse of women in politics terming it to be against African values.
“Women have the potential to fight for positions without defiling their rights, let them do away with the empty promises from selfish leaders. Stand and fight for what is rightfully yours. We have the responsibility as clerics to empower and enlighten our women that they have equal opportunities in leadership,” Noted Mr Mwero.
Mishi Mayumbe, a former Kwale county assembly nominated member said sexual advances in politics are real.
“Women should not walk alone in this journey of politics, collaborate with experienced people to show you the warning signs in politics,” Noted Ms Mayumbe.
Kenya has seven female governors out of the forty-seven counties.
They are; Susan Kihika of Nakuru County Gladys Wanga of Homa bay county, Cecily Mbarire of Embu County, Wavinya Ndeti of Machakos County, Fatuma Achani of Kwale County, Kawira Mwangaza of Meru County and Anne Waiguru of Kirinyaga County.
However, the number of female members of parliament in Kenya increased in the 2022 elections whereby twenty-nine women were elected to parliament compared to 2017, where only twenty-three were elected.
Three female candidates made it to the senate; Adan Dulo Fatuma of Isiolo County, Tabitha Karanja of Nakuru County and Agnes Kavindu Muthama of Machakos County.
“Would you encourage the idea of a woman giving in to politicians for a leadership position? You have used your resources campaigning for that position, why should you allow someone to abuse you,” posed James Dawa, a long-serving politician in Kwale County.
Mr Dawa noted that very few women in politics in Kenya stand their ground.
“Men in politics would wish to support women to succeed in their political journey but the majority of our women don’t trust themselves so they think the easiest way to win political seats is by sleeping with party leaders. It is so unfortunate,” Lamented the politician.
“In every election year in Kenya high divorce cases are recorded in the Southern coast of Kenya, women are good supporters of male candidates spending most of their time campaigning and neglecting their marital duties while some campaign without the consent of their husbands,” Said Amina Msau, chair lady of Maendeleo ya wanawake in Kwale County.
Kwale County governor Fatuma Achani termed some religious beliefs to be a drawback of women’s success.
“Born a Muslim and according to the Holy Book of Quran, I knew that it’s taboo for a woman to stand before men, by the time I was nominated as the first female Muslim deputy governor in Kwale county in 2013, my community did not want to be associated with me because I was seen to be against the Islamic religion. When I announced my bid to vie for a gubernatorial seat in Kwale County my community did not support the idea even after serving for 10 years as deputy governor. Some religious leaders begged me to step down but I knew they planned to shut down my dream, I was blackmailed by male candidates, received online threats, and insults were thrown even at my children,” She noted.
Some cultures and religions in Africa teach women to be good mothers in society, in Kenya, such beliefs have led many women to suffer silently in the name of traditions.
Female leadership is still viewed by some as an unimpeachable treaty of consent. In other words, a woman leaves her birth home and now belongs to her husband as his property.
Samia Suluhu Hassan is a Tanzanian politician who has been serving since March 19, 2021, as the sixth and first female president of Tanzania.
President Samia who is a member of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party and the third female head of government of an East African community inspires the lives of women in Kenya.
Winnie Hachi, an activist in Kenya said that empowering women is the most important tool to curb abuse of female politicians.
“Women in leadership should be role models to other women at the grass root level to make them not rely on men who make them vulnerable. Women must respect their values and be guided by principles,” said Ms Hachi.
Ms Hawaa called upon women in politics to protect their dignity appealing for civic education to women in politics to understand the Dos and Don’ts in politics.
Mr James Dawa said men are ready to support women’s leadership because the lack of women’s leadership has affected women’s development.
He notes that women’s agendas in assemblies are not taken seriously due to a lack of female voices to support the course.
He also appealed to Party leaders to nominate potential leaders when it comes to gender top-up instead of giving favours to women who are not qualified.
“Currently we have an elected female in Kwale county assembly whom we fully support to succeed the women’s agenda. We made her our majority leader to be a role model to other women at the grass root level” added Mr Dawa.
The Kenyan constitution that was promulgated in 2010 envisioned equal gender representation through the two-third gender rule giving vulnerable groups recognition.
Kenya being an African country, is riddled with chauvinism and there has been little political goodwill to implement the two-third gender rule.
Women form up to 55 per cent of the Kenyan population yet they have 12.18 per cent representation in elective politics compared to Rwanda which has 51 per cent women representation in elective posts having the highest economic growth rate in the African continent for the last 10 years.
The constitution of Kenya 2010 provides for equality and freedom from discrimination for all persons including guaranteeing the equal enjoyment of rights, civil, political, economic, social-cultural rights and group rights.
Article 38 of the constitution of Kenya 2010 provides for the political rights of every Kenyan including the right for every citizen to make political choices, the right to free, fair elections based on universal suffrage and the free expression of the will of the electors right to vote by secret ballot, the right to be a candidate for public office or office within a political party of which the citizen is a member and the right if elected to hold office.
The principles of equality, freedom from discrimination and inclusion are fundamental requirements that cut across the various articles of the constitution of Kenya 2010, national laws and related policies and administrative regulations.
The overall mandate of the national gender and equality commission is to promote gender equality and freedom from discrimination for all persons in Kenya with a focus on special interest groups including women.
This article is part of, the African Women in Media, young women in Politics, Luminate and women journalism program.