Where are women placed in the 2013 General elections?

For those who keep the company of Kenyan women political aspirants and their supporters, it is hard not to miss the recurrent conversation that revolves around political coalition building which seems to have given women leaders a wide berth.

Unlike the previous elections in the country’s history, the forthcoming polls looked better for women since the two-third Gender Rule was very clear on how women will ascend to National Assembly and the Senate.

But now with the coalition politics, the big horse race seems to be in the form of a male face except for Narc Kenya leader, Martha Karua, who is the only serious female candidate going for the highest office in the land.

And now with the 14,337,399 voters having been registered, the focus now is on the eagerly anticipated party primaries which are meant to take place early next year.

But even as political parties are opening space and some of them have waved the nomination fees, the number of women coming forward to vie for the various political positions is falling short of what was expected both at national and at the county level.

It seems in the up-coming Elections, which is momentous in many ways and which will also introduce a new system of governance, that women are again not playing a major factor.

Apparently being on the wrong end of an election is something that women candidates can readily attest to. The irony of the situation in 2013 despite the Constitution of Kenya 2010 is that it is no different from the election period in 2007, 2002, 1997 and the election cycle backwards to 1963 when Kenya became independent and women have since always found themselves pushed into the political periphery.

What the women are experiencing currently is a reminder of what happened in 2002 where political re-alignment was the order of the day where women’s political aspirations were compromised for what was termed then a bigger goal.

With the elections on the horizon, the subject of women’s participation in the 2013 general elections is dominated by concerns that history will repeat itself once more.

And women need to understand that the stakes are high in these elections – the fifth since the advent of multiparty politics in 1991 – and women are under pressure not only to fit into pre-determined pigeon holes, including within their political parties, but to ensure that the country realises the not less than one-third gender rule.

The coming elections woman should use their power to mobilize and organize human and material resources for political processes which has been compromised and whittled away over the years.

And strengthen the presence of women’s organisations in the political arenas where their dominance seems to have been lost.

The women’s movement has lost its dominance in Kenya’s political agenda, we and that the dominance of patriarchy within the election processes is making it very difficult for women to engage in politics meaningfully.

The other nagging problem for women seeking electoral posts is the realization that it is extremely expensive to run an election campaign. Using the 2007 estimates, conservatively, candidates in urban constituencies need between six million to Shs10 million.

Observed against the long-standing economic subordination of Kenyan women, this scenario is particularly challenging for women and no wonder the majority of women aspirants are holding funds-drives better known as harambees to raise money for their campaign just for the political parties’ primaries.

There is no question that the 2013 polls is proving to be a challenge to many aspirants. It not only going to be a tough one, but aspirants will need to demonstrate right from the onset that they are prepared in all ways for this undertaking if they hope to convince the voters to cast their valuable votes for them.

Female candidates will need to consistently speak to their plans, clearly outlining what they are doing each step of the way while all along demonstrating that they are strategically engaged and are as good as their male counterparts at the game of political maneuvering. As it is now, they are yet to start doing this, despite the fact that time may not exactly be on their side.


Taming the current tide of violence will reduce cases of GBV in the country

This November, Kenya is joining the rest of the world in commemorating the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an annual event that is more relevant today especially with the current conflicts and political violence in some pockets of the country.
As the country approaches the March 4 2013 election, there is real concern about the safety of women and girls. This is because Gender-based violence has become a defining feature of Kenya’s General Elections since 1992. Since then, cases of sexual violence characterize every election, the difference being only on the magnitude.
What is disturbing is that this violence is happening at time when many international instruments and national laws to address sexual violence against women exist. Every year, women continue to organize and advocate for concrete and lasting solutions to eliminate gender based and sexual violence and domestication of this international frameworks.
They also engage in numerous studies to understand this violence. Through this, the direct relationship between insecurity, sexual violence and HIV & AIDS vulnerability, has been shown to exist. Gender inequalities, power dynamics between men and women and the control of economic resources, are other causes or linkages to this violence.
In Kenya, there is limited data available on the total number and extent of sexual and gender based violence during conflicts such as the post-election violence. The total number of victims remains unknown. In most cases they go unreported, because of shame, embarrassment, a lack of awareness on the law, among other things.
Stories such as ; “ Not only are we raped, infected with HIV & AIDS and ripped of our livelihoods, we remain with limited platform for sharing such experiences” are often too common.
This data if captured can bring out the many underlying reason why this violence thrives. But studies done on this subject show that violence and crime thrives in society that manifest wide gaps in income, wealth and access to important services such as education, health and infrastructure.
There are two views that relate to violence and crime, when viewed in the context of poverty and inequality. Firstly, there is the view that violence and crime is triggered by wide differences in income, employment and political power.
People who have little share of these important factors in life use force and breach of law because of their inability to acquire them through the normal process of legitimate work and democratic participation. This is the group that is also very active during election time.
On the other hand, the inequality that exists between men and women tends to fuel violence within households which are linked to economic empowerment. In this case, majority of the victims are women.
This year’s theme of 16 days of gender activisms against gender violence: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women is very appropriate to Kenya now. There are concerns that the being experience now as we move towards elections might exacerbate Gender Based Violence in the country.
As we get deeper in the electioneering process and the post election period, there is need for the government and other stakeholder to find cogent ways of mitigating this gender based violence.
We need to ensure that zero-tolerance for sexual violence and rapes are embraced as a key element to peace and security. All stakeholders need to bring to live the African Union Gender Equality Declaration and Protocol on Women’s Rights in Africa Declaration as well as the Security Council Resolution 1325.
It is against this background that the Peace Initiative in Keya which is being implemented by International Rescue Committee (IRC) and other six partner aims to create grassroots networks that have the capacity to prevent and mitigate violence, including GBV, in Kenya’s conflict prone zones during the pre and post-election periods.
Under the theme: My vote, My choice for violence free society, this initiative, to be launched on Monday, hopes to link Gender Based Violence and Elections in Kenya as well as use an action-oriented strategy to rapidly create a more protective and peaceful environment in the run-up to the March 2013 elections.

Government is yet to tap in the massive potential of young people

The report released by the World Bank shows that Kenya unemployment rate has reached dangerously high levels, which needs to be addressed by the country’s leadership as matter of urgency. This is even more worrying since majority of those unemployed are young people. Such bubbling energy, if not directed on the right path, can be very toxic.
These statistics are also coming at a time when other depressing data show that young people of this country are at the crossroad: majority of them are infected with HIV and face serious alcoholic problems. What this tells us is that there is likely to be a correlation between unemployment, HIV infection, and alcoholism.
Unemployed youth engage in alcoholism that predisposes them to HIV infection. Likewise, unemployed makes young women vulnerable to HIV infection as they are forced to use sex to eke a living.
Yet some of those who are unemployed are very qualified and intelligent, with the government, parents and guardians having spent huge resources to take them through the education system. What it means is that investment is not being translated into economic gains for the country.
Cognisant of this problem, the National Youth Policy developed in 2006 spells out mechanism on how the government plans to deal with the problem. The areas the policy recognises that must be addressed in order for Kenya’s young people to effectively play their role in nation building are: Employment creation, health, education and training, sports and recreation, the environment, art and culture, the media and participation and empowerment.
The policy’s goal is to promote youth participation in community and civic affairs and to ensure that youth programmes are youth centred. But the sad thing is, since its development six years ago, the Youth Policy has not managed to reverse the tide of youth unemployment.
Already Kenya has got one of the most educated and energetic youthful human resource in the region. But the country is not tapping this potential. Untapped, the young people are directing this energy and intellect to other things: crime.
This is the reason why the increased cases of crime are being blamed on young people. Indeed, they have been branded as one of the groups that caused mayhem and death during the post-election violence, when they were misused by politicians for a few coins.
We all know that the government has got the potential to turn the energies of young people into positive contribution towards economic development. Kenya is one of the countries that desperately need an effective mentoring system that ensures youth learn from leaders who make a difference.
The government can learn from the Equity Bank where there is a comprehensive system of ensuring that the future bankers are mentored to become the best bankers of today. What James Mwangi the CEO of Equity is doing is building a huge number of human resource in banking sector and inculcating into them the values of hard work which is good for the industry and the country.
It is this mentoring and volunteerism system is what is setting the countries in the West apart from African country. For example, in the education sectors, we can have form four students volunteering to teach in marginalised communities. To motivate them, this can be translated into credits for their grades. By so doing, the country can realise the Social Pillar of Vision 2030.
This can also be done by mobilising young people to engage in economically viable activities. Such an approach is going to strengthen economic development, ensure sustainable democratic governance, and promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence among Kenyan communities.
There is further need to create a platform for positive transformation of thinking among youth that will encourage them to engage in activities that make them self-reliant.
Government needs to explore how to engage young people in community work like community policing, volunteering in hospitals, in schools and also in helping the elderly instead of sitting idle at the shopping centres waiting for politicians to give them a hand-out.
There is no better time than now to intervene if we are to reduce the vulnerability of young people to manipulation by politicians. The current efforts by the Kenyan government and other stakeholders to address the problems faced by the youth are appreciable. But a lot remains to be done.
For now, if the current approach of managing youth issues continues, then we are setting ourselves up for a youth population that will dominate in crime and rollback all the gains we have made as a country.

Gender Gap: Kenya stands out like a sore thumb in the region

The recent Global Gender Gap report released by World Economic Forum this week should be an eye opener to every Kenyan woman on how Kenya as a country has placed women
And the leadership of this country should be ashamed with the statistics that shows that not only has it indicated that Kenya has ranked 72, behind Tanzania (46), Uganda (28) and Burundi (24) , but the country despite having a progressive constitution in the region finds it hard to put in place effective machinery in terms of polices and strengthening of the institutions.
Just to mention the on-going debate of the “not less than two third” where women suggested that in order to avoid the constitutional crisis there is need to amend Article 81(b).
Some of the arguments which have been put forth are that women should fight for leadership like men instead of being given on a silver platter.
It is interesting that while most Kenyan men think that women cannot become good political leaders, the same Global Gender Gap report indicates that Kenyan women scored high in economic participation, educational attainment and health and survival and their involvement has increased.
What does that tell you for a country which is about to be 50 years. That women have been carrying the country on their backs, and that the Kenyan women are involved in areas which are considered the heart of the nation.
It is a known fact that women produce the bulk of Kenya’s food, yet they do not own the land they till. In the world over, women have proven to be a better credit risk than men, yet lacking collateral with which to access the credit. Women have also proven careful and effective managers of resources, yet they virtually absent from management of public resources.
And that is why over the years women have been saying that affirmative action is not a woman’s thing. It is a way of the country recognising that there have been challenges women have been facing in the political arena and that is why the constitutional mechanism to correct this problem was seen as the best option.
But what we are witnessing even with the recent by-elections, discussions around women’s political empowerment is a country which is under the burden of traditional and modern codify law, with the former being the reality for the majority, who live in rural areas..
Yet if our leaders can be comfortable with women’s leadership at the political level, studies have shown that where there is a critical mass of women in decision making, policy and legislative agendas change radically and they tend to assume a far more socially responsive line which in the end has greater impact on families and enhances economic growth.
Kenya cannot purport to be an economic giant in the region when it is last on gender issues. Great leaders have recognised that for a country to grow economically, women have to be part of the decision-making.
One such great leader is Nelson Mandela the former President of South Africa. Mandela’s legacy is not just the space he created for South African women to participate in public life and as citizens. It is his understanding of leadership which involved women.

Therefore he was able to benefit from women’s leadership which is more of Emotional Quotient – EQ than Intelligence Quotient -which most leaders come with a fair dose of. Because of this unique type of leadership which women have they tend to see beyond the petty politics that have haunted the fight against HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality, hunger and pressing development issues and always look for solutions and take the lead.
But even though the women are hoping that the next Global Gender Gap report that Kenya will lead because of the provision of gender equality in the constitution, but despite all these challenges the women of Kenya because of their unique situations in life, are leaders in their own right. They are busy making decisions far away from the limelight in social and political platforms.

Free and fair elections is also about free gender based violence

Recently an NGO went to West Pokot to conduct some activities around women empowerment. As part of the requirements of the activities, the women were supposed to have identification cards. But when they were asked to produce them, none had. They promised to bring them the next day. Come the next day, the women were accompanied to the workshop by their husbands, who were each holding the ID of their wives. Shocked and concerned about the situation, the NGO asked the women why IDs were in the custody of the men, and they were informed that it is the order of the day.
The issue of men keeping the women’s ID might be remotely related to how women get are involved in electoral process starting from getting the ID itself, participating in the voter registration, elections campaigns and the polling day itself.
Experience has shown that ID as usually used as a tool used by men to exercise their power. During elections, they used it to ensure the woman votes the person or party the husband is supporting. And when a woman refuses, then it can cause gender based violence.
This is because electoral processes always make women more vulnerable and insecure and within their families, wives tend to be coerced into voting in a particular way. A research on Gender Monitoring of the 2002 General Elections in Kenya done by African Woman and Child Features had very interesting findings. One of the women quoted in the study said: “In 2002, my husband asked me to vote for the candidate of his choice or else I was to face the music. I could have disobeyed him to my own peril.”
Some of the women who would like to vie for various political posts are intimated by their husbands. It ends up in violence when the woman defies his order and goes to vie for a political post. It is even worse when the woman vies against the husband’s relative or clan member. They are divorced or forced to separate as a punishment for such disobedience. Words like how can we allow women to come and lead us as if there are no men here are commonplace. This statement and many others have denied the society women with brilliant leadership qualities.
It has become fashionable to subject a woman who chooses to be part of a campaign team for a particular politician to gender based violence because they have come late in the evening or seen to be having a sizable amount of cash. They are accused of having gained this money through extra marital affairs. Many are beaten up or subjected to verbal violence by their male partners or even in-laws.
No wonder many campaigns and rallies do not have many women in attendance. During the past elections the common answer given by women why they do not participate in political campaigns and rallies is that is a man’s thing.
During the polling day itself, cases of women who have woken up so early to beat the long queues being raped have been reported. And while on the queue itself women are always subjected to pushing and shoving or indecent behaviour which at times can be humiliating. I remember during the last election at a polling station how women who were shoved and subjected to some form of violence went back home. They did not vote.
How free and fear an election is not just about events that happen on the polling day, but it encompasses events that occur throughout the electoral process. This is where women are most affected and majority suffer in silence
To ensure that the 2013 General Elections is free and fair, the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will have to ensure that gender principle and guidelines informs their work and interventions during the electoral process.
It is only through the use of gender lens in the final analysis can a country conclusively say whether an election is free and fair.

The need for Kenyan to embrace Natural Resource Governance

The discovery of the various Natural Resources in Kenya is eliciting a lot of excitement among the public because it seen as an asset that will emancipate the communities from the chains of poverty.
Across the country, examples are replete of how communities are likely to be displaced from their ancestral land to pave way for the mining or exploitation of these resources.
But one thing we are not doing is raising critical questions about the economic rights of these communities and how they are involved in the entire process of decision making.
Take the people of Mui basin in Kitui County who are likely to be displaced from the land they have called home for many years to pave way for the coal mining as an example.
While the discovery and mining of these minerals are expected to bring happiness, they are instead subjecting the affected people to misery. In most of the cases, the community is not involved in the negotiation and decisions around compensations issues. Only handpicked people are involved in the process and referred to “the community”.
This was the case with companies trying to mine Titanium in Kwale several years ago when the community felt short-changed in the land deal. After many court battles and massive advocacy by civil society, the compensation for the community was revised. Majority of the people are opposed to the exploitation of the resources, but for being kept in the dark during the negotiation processes, especially how the benefits are to be shared.
Failure to involve the community has had serious ramifications not only on the community, but to the investor as well. History is replete of how the failure to involve the community in matters around access to benefits from exploitation of these resources breeds major conflict, sometimes violent and deadly as is the case in Nigeria.
In all this, the women suffer a lot from the various fronts. One the women who have tilled the fertile land to produce food for their families have to deal with another headache of getting food from other sources. When conflict ensues after such failure community, the women and children again suffer a lot.
Kanyiva Ngombalu, a resident of Kitui, is reported to be saying; “I would rather die here than be evacuated at my age. My three daughters are married and one died many years ago. I live with my only son who has been sick for the past two years. What is my fate in this horrible situation?” lamented
Ngombalu who heard stories that huge coal deposits have been found within her home area is so fearful that will be relocated to a foreign land. The pain and exclusion of the community from these important matters is a reflection of poor governance by those mandated to oversee these activities.
A report commissioned by The Open Society Foundation on Natural Resource Governance- New frontiers and conducted by in Transparency and Accountability indicates that much of the focus of donors engaged in transparency and accountability issues in the natural resources sector has been on improving governance systems at a national level.
This report recommends that donors need to develop specific programmes focused on the transparency and accountability needs of communities, civil society groups and governments at this very local level – and that those needs should not be defined as being simply a watered-down version of existing national-level transparency programmes.
As the country prepares to major exploitation mineral in other areas, an adequate framework of negotiation and agreement needs to be developed by not only the technocrats, but including the ordinary people as well.
Giving the community ample time to discuss a checklist of issues and development of a benefit sharing agreement between the communities are likely to pre-empty the unnecessary pain and conflict.

As global leaders unite to provide 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries with access to contraceptives by 2020, Kenya should lead by example

In the early 80s, and 90s it was not common to see young girls from the age of 10-15 years getting pregnant. And if they did it was rare. But nowadays, stories of young girls giving birth to babies are all over and at times, by age 18, some of them have up-to even four children.

The implications of such cases are huge starting from the quality of life of the mother to that of the children, the impact on economic and development growth since such a mother cannot engage in meaningful economic activities. The other factor is that the children might also end up becoming
young mothers. And the vicious cycle continues. Continue reading