Women representation in political life has yet to reach meaningful ratio vis-à-vis their proportion of the nation. Between 1963 and 2013 only 74 women made it to the National Assembly, 49 elected and 25 nominated. The 2013 election in Kenya was the first General Election to incorporate elective and nominated affirmative action seats for women. Due to this framework the number of women contesting for elective seats went up. But the 68 (19%) women in the National Assembly, 18 (27%) women in the Senate and 82 (6%) women directly elected to the County Assemblies are still far below the 33% minimum constitutional requirement.
Media Focus on Africa and FIDA Kenya with the support of the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Kenya have come together to implement a project whose objective is to contribute to increased gender equality in elected posts in the 2017 General elections. In particular the focus shall be on the elective seats at the county level i.e. MCA and Governor. The project targets 8 counties namely: Mombasa, Kajiado, Narok, Nandi, Trans Nzoia, West Pokot, Nyandarua and Kisumu. A total of 96 female aspirants for MCA and Governorpositions from these 8 counties (12 per county) are targeted. The aspirants shall receive a variety of support . Here are some of the activities that will be undertaken under the project;
- Training the women aspirants in media use and effective campaign skills to help them become more visible and sellable.
- Production and airing of radio shows that discuss women leadership in all its aspects. The aspirants will be put on these radio shows to engage with the electorate and sell their agendas.
- Secondary school debates and essay writing competitions on Women Leadership. Every year about 500,000 female and male youth graduate from high school and become eligible to register as voters. Over one election cycle that is 2.5 million potential voters. It is important to begin changing attitudes and perception towards women leadership from early on and that is the objective of this activity.
- Community leadership roundtables in the counties to encourage community members, especially elders at the local level to adopt women leadership.
- Training for radio show hosts, especially those who host popular morning or evening shows, so that they see the need as well as know how to lead discussions on air that regard women leadership.
- Roundtable meetings with editors of the National and Local media houses. These are the people who determine what goes on air and their support for this cause can lead to a big change in how kenyans view women leadership as the media is a big influencer of public perseptions.
The project will run upto 2018.
One of the reasons behind the low number of women who vie for elective positions is the fact that women are not yet familiar with the opportunities to participate in county governance under the devolved system. To address this problem, Media Focus on Africa (MFA) and FIDA Kenya have gone round the counties mobilizing and encouraging women who hold different leadership positions in their communities or who possess leadership qualities based on the work they are doing in their communities to run for elective positions. The two organizations are implementing a project that is supporting Women who are running for MCA and Governor Positions. See more here.
During the mobilization meetings, MFA and FIDA explained the need for women leadership in county government and the positive effect that can have on the status of women in the country and generally on public service delivery for all. The women were also informed on what it takes to run for office and then invited to apply to join in the project. Many responded with Counties like Kisumu having over 60 applications. They are currently being reviewed so that the best, those who stand a chance of winning can be given the support they need.
During the meetings, MFA and FIDA also met Men, both elders and youth, and spoke to them about the need for supporting women leadership. The aim was to begin recruiting ambassadors who will then encourage other men to vote for women and hopefully also work towards the same by campaigning for them for example.
Another important aspect of the mobilization meetings was to encourage people to continue registering as voters because the most important support you can give to women is by voting for them
MFA has conducted a study on women and elective politics with two main objectives; One, to find out what opportunities are there in the laws of Kenya, in our cultures, in technology etcetera, that can be taken advantage of and utilized while implementing this project to promote women leadership in Kenya. Two, to find out what challenges and barriers stand in the way of women leadership in Kenya. This will help MFA come up with strategies and activities aimed at addressing these challenges and barriers and thus ensure the women being supported are successful. The study comprised of Focus Group Discussions, Key Informant Interviews and Literature Review. The final report is available upon request.
As part of our larger programme that is supporting women running for political office at the county level, we have in the past 3 months organized an editor’s forum to discuss the space women aspirants were getting in the media compared to their male competitors. The forums which were held on the 24th of March and on the 26th of May respectively at The Intercontinental Hotel were well attended by editors, bloggers and other media stakeholders.
In summary, the objective of the forums was to try to examine the extent of coverage of women political leadership and issues addressed; to identify the hindrances to women from using media platforms and; to identify practical steps that need to be taken to improve coverage of women political leadership and issues addressed.
For the first forum, a baseline survey conducted by Kenya Women Holdings on media coverage of current female politicians and political aspirants formed the basis of the discussions. The study found out that ‘when the media address women’s positions, they tend to frame them as ‘‘feminine’’ issues such as health care, food security, and education rather than as ‘‘masculine’’ issues like the budget, employment or national security. Male candidates who address the said feminine issues tend to receive more coverage. This makes it hard for the electorate to relate female candidates with any particular issue since both “masculine” and “feminine” issues can be associated with male candidates’
After the findings presentation, the editors present were on the receiving end as they were blamed for not doing enough to address the situation yet a similar study had been conducted after the 2013 elections. Njeri Rugene, a senior editor at the Nation Media Group came to their defence noting, “Nobody in the media has a policy to lock women out.” Her sentiments were echoed by her counterparts in the media. She however acknowledged that as a woman, she knew there was a problem, adding that her media house was taking deliberate measures to nurture young journalists to always be gender sensitive while in their work.
For the second forum, we focused on how language in media houses contributes to unconscious bias towards women, especially those in leadership.
The online community was also included in the lively discussions via twitter hashtag #womenandmediake (You are able to follow the discussions in both forums using the hashtag). In both forums, notable editors and many others including regional media organizations jumped on board and soon the hashtag was trending. People’s views and recommendations can be viewed on the hashtag as live updates were posted there. On the same note however, bloggers and other influential social media personalities were also put to task, “ Women’s relative invisibility in traditional news media has crossed over to the online media,” a participant noted.
At the end of the first forum, a participant summarized the message we were passing to the media houses in the following way, “When women see and hear more women in the media, they are encouraged to aspire more towards leadership”
We will organize a similar forum on the 28th of this month, and one more before the general elections are held in August this year.
For the last 2 months, we have been meeting community elders, religious leaders and other opinion leaders from Kajiado, Narok, Nandi, Trans Nzoia, West Pokot, Nyandarua and Kisumu Counties. We are engaging them in candid discussions on the place of women leadership in their communities. We are going further and showing them the economic and social benefits of having women leaders and vice versa, hoping to get them to support our agenda of encouraging People in their respective counties to vote for women in the upcoming elections. The mentioned counties are among those that elected no or very few women in the 2013 general elections. This meant nominating a third or more women to their assemblies so that they can meet the constitutional requirement of not having one gender having a membership of more than two thirds.
The Country is using millions of shillings every year to pay nominated assembly members, money that can go to development if we choose to elect women.