“Wanawake wakiingia kwa siasa, wanaachana na mabwana.”

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Bespectacled wiry with a slight frame, Grace Oloo looks more like a scholar than the passionate politician that she is.  Her devotion to the case of uplifting lives was fueled over the years as she worked as a community officer and was a board member of various school management boards.  Fifteen years in Mombasa Tudor ward have led her to throw her hat into the ring of politics as she vied for member of county assembly seat to represent her adopted home, Mombasa. Her journey of being an ‘outsider’ hailing from Kisumu has been a small impediment in her journey. Nevertheless, working with the communities for more than ten years and being well integrated into the community with leadership positions have given her the morale she needed to confront such petty attitudes.

Speaking clearly and silently she briefly outlined her campaign platform stating her development agenda focused on education, youth empowerment, water and sanitation and health to transform Tudor ward: “Education is key especially in early childhood,” she said.  On youth empowerment, she planned to encourage and support young people in various occupations such as car washes, formation of SACCOs and pooling of resources.  Additionally, she planned to enhance drug prevention awareness campaigns as well as support and enable frequent cancer screening. Oloo intended to collaborate with a water provision company to ensure a constant supply of water – a vital need in MombasaAddressing these issues should have kept her ahead of her six male competitors – and it would have been an impressive journey as one woman competing with six men for the nominations – had she won.

Grace was well versed with the challenges that faced her in the nominations.  She says that for most women in politics it boils down to a choice; between being a successful politician or a successful wife.  Being branded as a leader who can lead and deliver is disadvantageous for women, as this can be interpreted to mean that they have neglected their wifely roles. Yet, her greatest support stemmed from her husband who she says had assured her that, “they were in it together”. She was one of the lucky ones.  Most aspiring women politicians find it difficult to balance, what she calls “mother duties, and wife duties”.  For those who do not prepare well, their marriages fall apart “wanawake wakiingia kwa siasa wanaachana na mabwana”. Grace urges women to sensitize and prepare their families for the implications of a political life; such as late hours and endless meetings during their campaigns.

Should a woman overcome the challenges at home, the campaign itself is also not a walk in the park.  Grace claims that women are intimidated by their male colleagues into withdrawing from campaigns and are told to wait for a nomination instead.  Their male competitors have the ability to get in their way, using intimidation tactics, bribes, gangs to interrupt women’s meetings, and rumors of vulgarity that make lives of women aspirants difficult. She states that women politics tend to run issue-based campaigns and meetings, unlike their male opponents walking with gang groups and using the gangs to heckle and insult women.

Grace asserts that resources are important. “You need resources to participate in rallies, to attend meetings, to implement what you learn after capacity building”.  She says that getting clearance certificates is expensive and tedious and to register as a member of a political party, “the cost is prohibitive”.  Moreover, local party officials do not encourage women as “there has been no meeting between officials with women for the last five years”.

Given all these challenges is there any hope? Grace thinks so. The future is bright. While winning is key, the most important part is to face the challenges during the journey. As she expressed, “I did not make it toward the nomination, it was not easy, too much of intimidation, favoritism, bribery and other corrupt methods laid me off. But today, I support other women who have made their journey”. In her opinion on the future, continuous civic education especially for voters on accepting women as leaders is important.  Further to this, meeting cultural leaders (in the context of the Coast) for instance the Kaya elders in Mombasa and winning them over is critical.  Preaching to religious leaders and acquainting herself with Islamic knowledge is her way of fighting claims that she is an ‘outsider’. She also believes in participation in government initiatives which could promote harmony such as peace committees, the ‘nyumba kumi initiative’ and electoral conflict management meetings.  Overall Grace believes in dialogue.  Talking to young people will lead to a change of mindset.

Article written by Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen and Dr. Rosephine Nyiva Mwinzi of Technical University of Mombasa. The article is an outcome of two successive interviews with the woman aspirant on her journey towards the nomination and after the nomination process. This article is a piece among a larger study conducted by the authors on women participation in electoral politics in the Coastal region of Kenya.

 

This blog informs a larger project whose key objective is a published piece that examines the nuances of gender dynamics and women participation in politics. Supported by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and IFRA, the project works with a team of feminist scholars and researchers who explore dynamics of gender and masculinity. To this end, the project examines how women, (the electorate) and women aspirants navigate the space “elections”. The backdrop to this project was informed by statistics which reveal that Kenya ranks poorly in East Africa in as far as inclusion of women in political leadership is concerned. Indeed, Rwanda and Uganda’s National Assembly host respectively, 63 % and 35 % of women MPs. This compared to Kenya where women in the assembly is just close to 20 %[1]. Further to this, poor representation of women has been acknowledged as an impediment to transformative change by, feminist scholars, and more recently the Constitution. Despite this acknowledgement, representation of women in the political space still faces opposition. In the context of increasing awareness, debates on gender equality and the push for transformative change, this research project takes the opportunity of the forthcoming general elections to further understand the structural barriers to women’s participation in politics as well as the dynamics of gender relations.

 

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