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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Women in Nyandarua County determined to make milestones despite obstacles

The Rift Valley Institute, with the support of the East Africa Research Fund (EARF), has embarked on a major research study looking at the leadership and influence of women in politics in Kenya, which aims to map the level of women’s representation in decision-making roles in the government, identify the factors that impact the level of women’s representation in decision making roles in the government, and evaluate the impact of the two-thirds gender rule and women’s representation in politics on human and economic development outcomes. The following is a report from one of the researchers, Kennedy Mwangi.

‘Welcome to the land of milk and potatoes’, read a big sign just as we were entering Nyandarua County from Nakuru.  According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Nyandarua County has a population of about 600,000 people and, located about 100km from Nairobi, a total of five constituencies:  Ol Kalou, Kinangop, Kipipiri, Ndaragwa and Ol Joro Orok. This is a county that borders Laikipia, Murang’a, Nyeri, Nakuru and Kiambu counties. 

We were finally here, with our main mission to talk with different people and group of people in politics as we examined the various power dynamics that affect women in politics in Kenya.  These included the challenges that the women faced in accessing political office. Further, what were the shortcomings they encountered when they accessed political office and in carrying out their duties, in particular in the county assembly. We also had the intention of interviewing some women and youth who had unsuccessfully run for office and get their opinion on the difficulties they faced and what could be done to ensure a successful run.  This would be coupled by some views from the political and non-political appointees in the county government of Nyandarua who would give us their perspective on women in politics in the county.

Our first interview set the mood for the rest of the interviews and for the duration that we would stay in Nyandarua. Most of the women MCAs (member of county assembly) were full of energy and very enthusiastic about women’s issues. It is important to note that all women in the county assembly of Nyandarua are nominated; Nyandarua being one of the counties in Kenya that did not elect a woman in the 2013 general elections. As her fellow women MCAs would later reveal to us, there were a lot of challenges they faced when they decided to run for office, and when they are in office.

‘When I decided to run for office I had to ask permission from my husband’ quipped one of the aspirants who had run unsuccessfully for MCA in the 2013 general elections and is now giving it a second shot in the 2017 elections.

She went on to tell us about how it was hard during the campaigns as she would depend on being driven around by her husband on a bodaboda (motorcycle), and in competition, the male aspirants, rode posh vehicles and contributed huge amounts of money in social occasions like building schools or churches.

It was horrifying when she gave an account of how she was almost kidnapped and raped during the campaign period.

One woman MCA noted that during the campaigns, there are all sorts of abuses, especially from the men, and even from other women. She narrated how during the campaign period that preceded the nominations she was called a ‘prostitute’ and that she was only running for office so that she could snatch other women’s husbands. And the political parties that were conducting the nominations were not helpful either: the women MCAs noted that they did little to assist women who faced ‘unfair’ competition from men.  When prodded further about what the ‘unfair’ situation was she described how society favoured male leaders while judging women more harshly. 

The conversations with the women were deep and sincere. They bared their hearts to us. They wanted their voices to be heard.

Nyandarua county assembly chambers were being temporarily hosted in church premises in the town of Olkalou, which is the capital of the county. It clearly demonstrated some of the early challenges faced by semi-rural counties like Nyandarua and those that are more or less starting afresh as far as infrastructure is concerned.  This notwithstanding, the officials at the county assembly welcomed us warmly and we even had an opportunity to go inside the assembly chambers and get a feel of the environment in which the MCAs worked: it really needed a facelift but it was not a bad start.

At the assembly we got to speak with more women MCAs where they described the difficulties they encountered in the assembly. One noted that the men always used their ‘nominated’ tag to intimidate and coerce them.

‘“Which ward do you represent?” they are fond of asking us when they really have no point against us’, one of the woman MCAs noted.  She called on women to take up the challenge and go for elective seats, a sentiment that was highly supported by a majority of women MCAs and all the male MCAs that we interviewed.

The women MCAs noted the patriarchal culture in society as one of the major hindrances to the participation of women in politics. They faced resistance even from their own families. They also noted that they had no budgetary allocation in terms of the ward development fund, which the elected male MCAs had access to. Although women MCAs have roles such as legislation, representation and oversight, she added that one of the main ways that the people in Nyandarua judged the performance of a leader was through the initiation and completion of a ‘physical project’ like a road or streetlights: this requires money which the women MCAs did not have. Therefore, this has the effect of destroying and eroding their credibility in society.

Fieldwork is really interesting as the researcher gets to talk and listen as well as interact with different people from different walks of life. We visited the county headquarters which houses the governor’s office and the offices of the executive committee members. One of the most interesting and eye-opening interviews was with a human resources officer who put it clearly that one of the reasons why women stagnated in one position in the county government was the ‘fact that they [women] do not want to take risks, especially in applying for the short, contractual jobs that give experience’.

She noted that women like to go for permanent and pensionable job offers since they have job security, rather than the contractual jobs like being CECs (county executive committee), noting that these jobs, though short and insecure, could easily move women up the ladder. She added that women preferred not to take risks as they had multiple roles in the community, including taking care of their children, and therefore did not want to expose them to uncertainties.

But there was an air of optimism. In the various focus groups both women and men agreed that the affirmative action led to more women in positions of power and decision-making, and it was indeed a good thing that needed to be supported. One woman noted that the fact that women are in leadership positions in the county was motivation for girls in society to grow up knowing that they too could be in such positions. Some of the women MCAs continued to conduct women empowerment programmes and sponsored bills that targeted women.

From the various interviews, especially with the women MCAs, it emerged that they indeed play an oversight role and question expenditure despite all the challenges.

Although most of the women and men respondents noted that power—especially political power—still lies with men, women were making great strides in the political arena in Nyandarua County. Respondents noted that women were performing well and in many cases were more trustworthy, honest, hardworking and less likely to be corrupt. These are among the virtues that are encouraging women to be even more aggressive as they seek political seats. The women respondents encouraged supporting women in politics in Nyandarua County in various ways, including resource mobilization, as well as through conducting civic education in the community and training women so that they can take advantage of the devolved structures to empower themselves.

RVI’s final report on strengthening the leadership and influence of women in politics in Kenya will be published later this year.

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