Pushing for women leadership beyond affirmative action in Kenya



Some of the women aspirants during the capacity strengthening platform for women candidates Photo by UN Women/Kennedy Okoth


Women’s political empowerment and equal access to leadership positions at all levels are fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a more equal world. With limited growth in women’s representation, advancement of gender equality and the success of the SDGs are jeopardized.

The Ministry of Public Service Youth and Gender Affairs with support from UN Women organized a capacity strengthening platform on 20th June for women running for political office in the upcoming August 8thgeneral election. The forum brought together incumbent women candidates through the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) Caucus and aspirants vying for Governor, Senator and Single Member Constituency seats during the upcoming general elections.

The Independent Electoral and Boundary commission (IEBC) as at 20th May analysis puts the number of aspiring women candidates for County Woman Member of National Assembly at 261, Governors at 9, Senators at 25, Member of National Assembly at 115 and several Member of County Assembly.

Though the number of nominated women candidates for the posts of governors, senator, MPs (currently at 150) has increased in 2017 compared to the 2013 (where we had no governor, 16 nominated senators, and 16 women elected as Members of Parliament) the numbers are not sufficient to achieve the 2/3rd gender rule in parliament even if all women candidates are elected.

“Women’s participation in politics is socially transformative. Research shows that women in politics raise issues that others overlook, pass bills that others oppose, invest in projects others dismiss and seek to end abuses that others ignore. Where women are able to participate in peace processes, the chances of reaching an agreement at all improve tremendously.” Noted the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Public Service Youth and Gender Affairs Hon. Cecily Kariuki

UN Women Country Director Ms Zebib Kavuma Noted that the 2/3rd gender rule remains a big challenge as the country moves towards the forth coming general elections on August 8th 2017 with part of the challenge being the low number of women MPs in the 11th parliament.

Several challenges hinder women’s proven abilities to lead including Violence against women candidates; Strong patriarchal society where political positions are largely perceived to be the preserve of men; Culture of money driven elections in Kenya; Gendered roles of men and women in society; media coverage, image and legitimacy in the eyes of the media.



Addressing electoral violence

Women candidates interested in running for political positions in the country have often been threatened and shunned by their male counterparts with some facing threats to their lives as highlighted by majority of the women candidates present.

“As a Ministry, we are concerned about the increased incidences of violence against women candidates and voters in the recent days. Cabinet Secretary at the Ministry of Public Service Youth and Gender Affairs “Over the years, we have learnt valuable and sometimes painful lessons that when it comes to the women’s quest for political office, patriarchy knows no boundaries regardless of our tribe, political parties or religion.” She added



Figure 1: Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of national government Hon. Major Gen. (Rtd) Joseph Nkaissery and the Cabinet Secretary at the Ministry of Public service Youth and Gender Affairs Hon Sicily Kariuki (Photo by UN Women/ Kennedy Okoth


The Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of national government Hon. Major Gen. (Rtd) Joseph Nkaissery, reiterated the commitment of the government towards a peaceful and secure elections and acknowledged the existing threat to women and promised to beef up security for women candidates depending on the threat of the individual candidates.



Interventions in place to address the challenges

The Ministry of Public Service Youth and Gender Affairs in collaboration with development partners, including UN Women has various interventions guided by the Constitution, Vision 2030 and the Second Medium Term to create platforms for gender equality and non-discrimination against women and girls. These include the launch of a National Strategy for Supporting Greater Participation of Women in Elective Politics; and a four year Government-UN Joint Program on the Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres.

“This is timely as women are targeted in election violence at higher rates than their male counterparts, especially as political candidates. In many incidents, it is clear that women are often being targeted not necessarily because of their political actions or affiliations, but simply because they are women.” Notes Hon Cecily Kariuki

The election strategy hopes to strengthen institutional and legal frameworks for the electoral processes; strengthen participation of voters, parties and candidates in the electoral process with emphasis on women, youth and disabled; deliver a more efficient, transparent and peaceful elections; and Strengthen electoral justice and increased compliance with the electoral framework.

In partnership with UN Women, the Ministry continues to support gender sensitive voter education, Enhancing visibility of women candidates, and advocating for gender sensitive and balanced reporting on electoral processes as part of the interventions.

The United Nations is providing technical and financial support to Kenya’s general elections, slated for August 2017 through the Strengthening the Electoral Process Project in Kenya (SEPK), a donor basket fund managed by UNDP, while UN Women focuses on the component of increasing women participation in election.The SEPK program aims at strengthening and developing sustainable and just election institutions, systems, and processes capable of delivering a free, fair, just, transparent and credible 2017 General Elections

“I am very optimistic that for the first time in the history of our country, we will have elected women governors and women senators. Going forward, we will have a stronger and sustained voice of the women in public space.” Hon Cecily Kariuki added expressing hope.

The forum served as a platform for all women nominated by the political parties to strengthening their networks and cohesiveness among themselves and across the political divide by sharing experiences and information that can result to more women elected in August 2017

About DaO on GEWE

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