Disinformation: A Barrier to Women Representation

By Pauline Okeng'a

Women at the Vihiga Cultural Day showcasing their traditional roles

Female representation in parliament in Kenya has been on a gradual increase over the past ten years. The recent polls saw 29 women elected to the National Assembly compared to 23 in the previous election bringing the number of women representatives in the National assembly to 82, inclusive of the 47 special women seats, and the six nominated by political parties. The Senate had 3 women elected, while across the wards there were 115 women elected as members of County Assembly in the 1450 wards in the country.

However despite this significant increase in women representation, Western Kenya is one of the regions  that recorded low numbers of women representatives. Out of the seven elected Governors and 8 deputy Governors, none hails from the region.

Dr. Jennifer Riria in charge of the Kenya National chapter of the African women leaders Network (AWLN) in a report on the general elections said the fundamental barriers for women in Kenya is that their voice is not heard, therefore they are not seen.

” Men in this country have all the resources, they can sell a cow or piece of land to fund their campaign but women can’t , they rarely have access to capital,” she says.

The women’s movement in Kenya, has played a leading role in advocating for the empowerment of women through advancing their rights, promoting gender equality, social justice with the goal of engendering governance. The outcome of these efforts has varied over time.

Cultural Stereotypes Hinder Women’s participation

In Western Kenya, women seeking political office struggle to maneuver the predominantly patriarchal political context that appears intolerant to women emancipation. Cultural beliefs have played a big role in pushing women away from leadership roles in the region.

 Local Journalists covering the campaign trail noted that some men discouraged the hiring of widows as campaign managers in the belief that they were a source of bad luck.

Kenya Correspondent Association (KCA) official Bernard Kwalia, says  this kind of disinformation complicated the campaign field for female candidates.

Primary school children performing for the Vihiga leaders on the Cultural Day

 Issues arising

Hellen Mwanika a nominated MCA in Vihiga county acknowledges that finances are an inhibiting factor for women’s participation in elective politics , but says the main challenge she has experienced is cultural beliefs and perceptions that the woman’s place is the kitchen.

” Women in the rural areas lack self confidence because of cultural beliefs that women are meant to serve and take care of the homes,” says Mwanika.

She says this perception has significantly contributed to a situation where most women doubt their leadership skills, suggesting that this mindset must be changed for women empowerment initiatives to be successful.

” I started taking up leadership positions from when I was in school and went on up to the higher education level. I was never afraid of any challenge, ” Mwanika reveals.

Cultural beliefs and the stereotypes propagated by men and passed down generations, have served to instill fear in women in rural areas discouraging them from leadership roles.

Voters too seem to have been socialized to demean women leadership which seems to affect their decision at the ballot. The electoral trends show that the senior citizens in the community have an influence in how the youths cast their vote. Surprisingly, women voters also have been made to believe women make poor leaders.

Blessings Andeso is a youth and voter in the Luanda Township ward of the Vihiga county. She admits that as a voter she views men leadership as more reliable.

” The man is the head of the family, he leads the home so it is only natural that he should lead in all other spaces too. Our tradition has made us see men as the most powerful leaders. We found this practice and are carrying on with what we were taught,” explained Andeso .

 Nominated MCA Vihiga county Caroline Asola Angeto during the annual Bunyore Cultural Day calebrated at Ebusakami primary school asked the county government of Vihiga to take up the responsibility of giving young mothers of school going age an opportunity to go back to school .

“As a community we need to start viewing girls as very productive members of the future in this country. This is a barrier that is blocking many girls in the region from securing their future, said Asola.

In many other diverse fields women have emerged victorious doing a tremendous job for the benefit of the society all over the continent.

Way forward for woman leadership.

Great Judicial administrators, law enforcement officers, medical experts and women presidents in African countries like Liberia and neighbouring Tanzania are a perfect example of what women can do if given the opportunity.

Women’s participation in politics in Kenya remains a challenge more so for regions like western Kenya which is heavily patriarchal. A strong support system is critical, spouses and immediate family members play a key role in encouraging women seeking elective seats. This is a step towards rooting out stereotype and disinformation on women leadership. This support played out in the Meru County scenario where female Governor Kawira Mwangaza’s spouse remained her pillar as she endured onslaught from the male dominated county assembly that sought to impeach her. Such support is fundamental in warding off threats and barriers aimed at stifling the women’s voice in the political space.

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