By Florence Gichoya
As years go by, more women are taking part in political positions from the grassroots to the national level. It is imperative to sensitize the society that the women can deliver if given an opportunity to lead. More women need to be encouraged to get in the political system. With increased numbers the society will gradually be convinced that women can achieve citizen’s interests even better than men.
There are many organizations that deal with educating, sensitizing and empowering women who are interested in running for political positions. One such organization is National Democratic Institute (NDI) which is nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions all over the world for over 20 years including Kenya. NDI promotes openness and accountability in the government. The organization empowers citizens to articulate the leadership concerns hence promote citizen participation.
NDI has the mandate to work with all the 47 registered parties. One of their major focus is affirmative action. They encourage parties to advocate for women leadership in branches at the counties in order to have an impact in the grassroots levels.
County level capacity building is achieved by strong presence of the political parties in the counties. Developing these branches facilitates women programs that focus on training potential candidates.
In regard to women participation in leadership, NDI is at the forefront in conducting training for potential female candidates. They however have to come through their respective political parties. These capacity building trainings are designed to equip and create opportunities for the aspiring candidates with the motivation, proper skills and networks to position themselves to successfully run for political office and win elections.
It is important to have gender mainstreaming in the 47 registered parties. In the current 10th parliament women comprise 10% of the 222 members of parliament. It is this reason that the constitution emphasizes on equality in order to get rid of the existing disparity of women leadership as compared to men
That is why NDI and other organizations take the role of training members of these parties in order to increase citizen participation especially in women. This is actioned from the grassroots up to the national level.
NDI also publishes an e-newsletter called Win with Women; this newsletter highlights stories on women participation in selected countries around the world.
Another organization that is active in empowering women political candidates is the Centre for Multiparty and Democracy (CMD). CMD was founded by Kenyan political parties in early 2004. Its main objective is to enhance gender equity and effective participation and representation at all levels in the management of political parties.
There have been instances where potential women candidates have approached these organizations for help yet they are not registered in any political party. This is very unfortunate because many women lack awareness on the importance of being a registered member of a political party, yet a lot of emphasis is placed on training potential candidates on how to prepare them and be fully equipped for leadership.
Challenges of potential women candidates
Women are subjected to numerous challenges especially socio-economically. In almost all communities inKenya, women are socialized from a tender age that men are the leaders and this affects their attitudes towards leadership. There have been situations where men determine the family’s choice of candidate during elections. Political campaigns also require a lot of money and economically women are disadvantaged as compared to men because in most families men control the family resources therefore the women don’t have access to these resources in order to vie for political positions.
Moreover there are still communities that frown upon women interested in taking up leadership positions. For instance Nyanza, Western and North Eastern regions do not have elected women MP’s in the current parliament. There are only nominated female MP’s.
There are hardly any mentoring programmes for inexperienced women aspirants. That is why NDI organizes training sessions through political parties to mentor young women interested in venturing into politics. They gain more confidence to even run against the veteran politicians.
Is it possible to translate women’s socio support network to political support?
Women have a very strong socio support system, for instance there are very many ‘chamas’ or self help groups in almost all communities from all walks of life. Women support each other in business, purchasing properties, paying school fees and taking loans. They also support each other socially like family events, religious activities; however this network support does not translate in the politics arena.
There needs to be a support system for these potential women candidates. More emphasis should be put in to mentor them because many have the desire but lack the necessary skills, money and will power to compete with other male aspirants.
In addition to that the women aspirants need to plan early for their campaigns because they demand a lot of money and time. Organizing fundraising activities and mobilizing volunteers at least a year before elections is a strong driving force for a successful election.
NDI and other like-minded organizations and the Kenyan constitution fully support the women venturing into politics. They no longer have an excuse and should make use of these available opportunities.