Abdia Gole, 33, is a recent graduate in Business Management from one of the leading universities in Kenya. She’s also a candidate for the upcoming County Assembly elections for Gorbo Ward, Marsabit County, in Northern Kenya.
“I am going door to door, campaigning to urge women and youth to vote for me. Our time is now or never,” says Gole.
When she first announced her decision to run for a political office, people in her community ridiculed her. The Council of Elders, who are the traditional leaders of the community and have the ultimate say in such matters, also disapproved of Gole’s intentions. In her traditional community, women are expected to stay home and care for their families. Competing with men for political power is unheard of.
Some 456 miles away from Gorbo Ward, in the coastal town Mombasa, Maimuna Mudao is optimistic about winning the election for the position of Women’s Representative in Mombasa County. The National Assembly of Kenya consists of 47 “Women’s Representatives”, each elected by the registered voters of the counties.
“I have previously contested for the position of Member of Parliament (Kisauni), in Mombasa County in 2004 and 2007,” says Mudao. “Since then a lot has changed in terms of electoral processes, the enactment of the new Constitution and the attitude of voters.”
“Now there is more awareness of gender issues,” Mudao says. “This is a step toward the right direction for us as aspiring women leaders.”
Still, Mudao feels that more needs to be done to raise awareness among women candidates and voters. According to the law, political parties must nominate at least one-third of women candidates. But this does not happen in practice, which hampers women’s chances of getting elected.
“Women need to understand that when other women are in leadership positions, they can bring more gender-sensitive laws and policies,” says Mudao.
Abdia Gole and Maimuna Mudao are among the participants of a joint UNDP, UN Women and OHCHR project on “Strengthening Electoral Processes”. Funded jointly by DFID, USAID, EU and the Governments of Ireland and Italy, the project aims to support credible and peaceful elections.
Kenya’s 2010 Constitution guaranteed equal rights and opportunities for women in the political, social and economic spheres through affirmative action.
However, in practice, women still face persistent institutional barriers to political participation, and not many women are being nominated or elected within the political parties. That’s why the Political Parties Bill was passed in 2016, stipulating that no more than two-thirds of elected or appointed candidates on a party list could be of the same gender.
Kenya has seen a significant increase in women’s representation in the Parliament, from 9.8 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2013. But much more is needed to achieve the constitutional target of equal opportunity.
Ahead of the general elections, the State Department of Gender Affairs, with the support of UN Women, is conducting a county-wide civic education campaign. One of the objectives is to strengthen the capacity of women to participate in the electoral process, both as candidates and as voters.
The training raised public awareness on the need for more women in elected positions and showed examples of how women have led in the past. They also sensitized the participants about their legal rights vis-a-vis the electoral process, and taught campaign management skills to women aspiring to run for office at local levels.
For the upcoming general elections on 8 August, hopes are running high among women candidates. A total of nine women are competing to become governors, 115 to become members of the National Assembly, 25 as senators and 261 as members of the County Assemblies.
This story was originally published by UN Women.