Aspiring women politicians have never had more opportunities as they do today, thanks to the new Constitution.
They can now contest for any of the six elective positions which exclude the 47 seats reserved for women representatives in all the counties.
The six include three new ones created in the new Constitutional dispensation. These are the Senate, Governorship and women’s representative.
The other three are the presidential, parliamentary and ward representatives, previously known as councillors. So far those eying the lucrative seats are in their thousands and these exclude civil servants who are yet to resign from their jobs and join the race.
However, six months to the next General Elections, the media has been identified as one of the biggest obstacles to women aspiring for leadership positions in the forthcoming General Elections.
Participants and panellists at a recent Media-Focus organised public forum in Nairobi expressed fears that women aspirants are likely to suffer from biased and or news blackout from the most FM stations which were accused of promoting ethnicity and hate speech on the one hand or focusing on mundane issues about sex and relationships.
However, according to National Cohesion and Integration commissioner, Millie Lwanga, politicians are now using coded language to promote hate speech and ethnicity to evade the punitive measures outlined in the NCIC Act.
“The Commission believes in inclusion as the best strategy to address national issues and deal with them rather than giving politicians a blackout and then they go underground and cause more mayhem. Our biggest challenge now is how to deal with hate speech and ethnicity through the social media, the blogs in particular,” says Lwanga.
However, Wanjiku Mbugua of Front-Page expressed fears that there will be double tragedy for women as far as media coverage and hate speech is concerned saying that there was a need for the media to wear gender sensitive lenses as they cover the campaigns and polls.
“Every day we wake up to a cocktail of ethnicity and hate speech in the media,” Mbugua lamented saying that her organisation had received reports that most journalists working for vernacular FM stations have been “embedded in ethnicity” and are no longer balanced, fair and ethical in their reportage.
The above concerns over ethnicity and hate speech raised at that forum are already being monitored closely by a task force formed by the Ministry of Information, as stated by the director of Information, Mary Ombara.
Social media is the biggest culprit so far followed by vernacular FM stations, most of which are owned by politicians.
Indeed, the stakes in the forthcoming polls will be very high, what with the KSh1 million monthly send off package for MPs in addition to other perks and allowances. It is encouraging to see the large number of women who have declared their interest in the elective posts which are all up for grabs.
The current Parliament, the Tenth since independence, close to half a century ago has only 22 women MPs out of 222 members, while neighbouring Rwanda has a ratio of 56:44. It is also laudable that most of the 22 have announced that they will be seeking bigger seats, with two of them, Martha Karua (Gichugu MP) and Charity Ngilu (Water minister), saying they will go for the top and most powerful seat on the land.
The sky is the limit and as the US President Barack Obama said in his 2008 elections campaigns, even the Kenyan women can match forward in confidence saying: “Yes we can!”
Affirmative action clause in the new Constitution is supposed to address the hurdles that have been put in the way to block women from seeking elective posts in the past.
All sorts of tricks under the sun were used to lock women out of politics, including violence, mudslinging; harassment and corruption. In Eastern Province, a woman candidate was roughed up in public and her hair plucked out by her rival’s hired goons on the eve of the 2007 polls, while in Nyanza, a woman candidate was blocked from leaving her house to campaign by her rival’s hired hit squad.
Last month, Nominated MP, Sofia Abdi, revealed during a TV talk show that she was “rigged” out of a parliamentary seat by former President Moi, after she won the Kanu nominations on the strength that he could not allow a woman to vie for the seat because it was against Somali culture! She is not turning back, and is eyeing elective posts in her backyard in North Eastern province. She is just one of the many women who are ready to hold her head high and demand for her rights, and she should emulated by her sisters far and wide.
This is where the media should support women aspirants by highlighting and giving them a voice and a place in their publications and/or TV and radio bulletins.
This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Issue 30