Kenyan women struggle in politics | Africa | DW | 08.02.2013
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Kenyan women struggle in politics

Chances for Kenya's only female presidential candidate are slim. The latest polls suggest just one percent of voters would pick Martha Karua come election day. But things are changing.

Even getting elected to the Kenyan National Assembly is difficult for women, Rachel Yegon, who is hoping to be elected to parliament, told DW. She is a business woman from Kericho in western Kenya. And unlike most women in her country, Yegon is financially independent.

Most women in Kenya are economically disempowered, she said, noting that a lot of women would have to borrow their husband's car.

"You'd have to ask for money [...] And it's not only one day, it's maybe everyday of a whole year. That man would get fed up with you, so he would not want to encourage you to do that," Yegon added.

An image Rachel Yegon, a politician standing for a seat in Kericho (Copyright: DW/Maja Braun)

Rachel Yegon would like to be a member of parliament

Stumbling blocks

Money is important because electoral campaigns are expensive in Kenya, with candidates having to budget for transportation, placards, nomination fees, advertising and even monetary gifts for potential voters.

But in comparison to men, women often face another hurdle when it comes to being elected: education. Higher offices require completion of education. Observers fear that in the remote areas in the north, along the coastal region and among the Maasai in the south few women would run for parliamentary seats.

Constitutional change

There should be more women in Kenya's parliament. A clause in the country's new constitution stipulates that all public service sectors cannot be occupied by more than two-thirds of either sex. But that's not the case in parliament. In December 2012, Kenya's Supreme Court ruled that the stipulation would have to be implemented in stages after the elections in March 2013.

Kenyan voters queue at a polling station, on August 4, 2010 in Mathare primary school within the Mathare slum, in Nairobi, in the ongoing constitutional referendum. Kenyans voted today on a proposed constitution to make their institutions more democratic amid tight security aimed at preventing a repeat of deadly post-election violence in 2007-8. Backed by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the 'yes' vote has led opinion polls despite a feisty 'no' campaign which has stigmatised the text as allowing abortion and harming certain tribes on land issues. AFP PHOTO:TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Kenyan will head to the polls on March 4

Still, the number of female representatives in the Kenyan parliament is set to rise. For the next elections, 47 of the 222 parliamentary in the National Assembly have been set aside for women. There will be a woman representing every county. But this isn't a solution, Hassan Omar, a candidate running in Mombasa, told DW.

"Most of the women appear to have narrowed their interests to the women seats in parliament and therefore have ignored the larger opportunities that are presented to the women," he said.

Women can help overcome ethnic conflict

Joan Birika, Mitarbeiterin der Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung in Nairobi. (Copyright: DW/Maja Braun)

Joan Birika believes women can play a special role in politics

Rachel Yegon is also standing for the special county seat that is reserved for a female candidate in her district. Campaigning for a regular parliamentary seat against men is much harder, she said, pointing to Kenyan culture.

"The culture subdues women to accepting [...] that they are not good enough in society," Yegon explained.

She believes a woman's role in the family can also stop her from standing for political office. So it's mostly women who have grown children who can stand for office.

When women first get to parliament, they are able to accomplish a lot, Joan Birika, a political scientist at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Nairobi, told DW. For example, laws on alcohol consumption.

She hopes women will be able to help overcome ethnic conflicts in Kenya. Unlike men, women's ethnic ties change through marriage, Birika explained. So they could use their ability to change ethnic ties to bridge ethnic and cultural differences.

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