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Polls Leave Women More Marginalised
By Judith Achieng‘, IPS, 13 January 1998
NAIROBI, Jan 13 (IPS) -- Years of hard campaigns and activism by Kenyan women for equal participation in the political process were dampened following President Daniel arap Moi's failure to appoint a woman to a full ministerial post in his new 25-member cabinet.
Even the post of Minister for Women and Youth Affairs went to a man, Maalim Mohamed. Mwarere wa Mwachai, the only woman to win a seat on the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) ticket at the Dec. 29 polls, was appointed an assistant minister in the same ministry.
The absence of a woman minister means that no woman will be sitting in the government cabinet, since only full ministers are accorded that privilege.
Mohamed's appointment has angered a cross section of Kenyan women. "Women's problems are usually handled better by a woman. Not by a man," said one woman here.
Kenyan women failed to make an impact during the December polls. Out of 50 contestants, only four women made it to the 200- member Parliament.
"From the composition of the Parliament, it looks as if there are no women in the country," said Beth Mugo, one of the four successful legislators. "Kenyan women are respected in the international arena and it is very embarrassing that they are hardly represented in their own parliament," Mugo added.
Charity Ngilu of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the only female presidential candidate who was widely expected to give Moi a run for his money, finished a poor fifth in the polls, but managed to retain her Kitui Central parliamentary seat.
"It is hardly believable that we only got four seats when we were most prepared for better representation in the government," said Caroline Masika, a business consultant here.
Some have laid the blame squarely on the 26 political parties whose structures they say impede women's participation in politics. "The few women who managed to go through the election process were not provided with adequate support by their parties and, on the other hand, they were intimidated and subjected to violence," said Julia Ongudi, an official in the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW).
The NCSW, a non-governmental organisation which advocates for more gender conscientisation of men and women, particularly in the rural areas to ensure political equity, also blames the dismal performance of women in last month's polls on the lack of sensitisation among women to vote for more women representatives. "With their large numbers, women had the capacity to decide on their political leadership," Ongudi said.
Women make up 52 percent of Kenya's 30 million population.
Others think women's performance was undermined by poll irregularities which saw many candidates across the country crying foul. "Some of us were rigged out," complained Betty Seth, who lost in a Nairobi constituency.
Such charges however, have been denied by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya. "The outcome reflects the wishes of the people," said the Commission's chairman, Samuel Kivuiti.
Since independence from Britain in 1963, women have played a marginal role in Kenya's political life, even though they make up 52 percent of the East African nation's population.
The largest number of female legislators has only been six and this was during the 1992-1997 assembly. Of these six, only one was offered a cabinet post and another was appointed an assistant minister.
Encouraged by that number, women registered in droves to compete for parliamentary and local council posts in a bid to boost female numbers in the 1997 polls.
Several women's groups and non-governmental organisations held numerous civic and voter workshops to educate women on their rights, both as contestants and voters.
But the political tide was not in their favour. Ngilu lost her presidential bid. World famous environmentalist, Wangari Maathai, also lost both the presidential and parliamentary race. And, Kenya's first and only woman cabinet member Nyiva Mwenda lost her bid for parliament at the party nomination stage.
The outcome of the polls means five more years of under- representation, which also means that issues affecting women will receive little attention from government, according to Mugo. Her claim is justified by the fact that Moi, who has been in office since 1978, is yet to implement the Beijing Platform of Action adopted in 1995 at the United Nations Conference on Women.
Some say the Beijing Platform of Action will never be implemented by a male-dominated government like Kenya's, because the Platform acts as a pointer to equality between men and women. "It scares men out of their wits", because the tenets of the Beijing document, "touch on the raw nerve of man's superiority in the society," said Samson Midigo, a journalist here.
Some analysts predict that the small number of women in parliament means that pressing issues pertaining to women's rights could be delayed. Official figures reveal that women form only 25 percent of the total Kenyan workforce. In education, 27.1 percent of females as opposed to 16.1 percent males have received no formal schooling.
Another key issue is violence against women. Police report that at least six cases of assault or rape take place in Kenya everyday.
Currently, no law explicitly defines the rights and the status of women in Kenya and this has been widely blamed on the poor representation of women in parliament to articulate such rights.
To correct the disparity, Mugo, who is also the President of Council for Economic Empowerment of Women in Africa, has appealed to Kenya's six major political parties to nominate only women to parliament to give it a "semblance" of "gender equity".
"I earnestly urge these parties to make special efforts to nominate only women, because currently we are too few," she said.
Under Kenya's constitution, the six major parties -- KANU, the Democratic Party (DP), the SDP, the National Development Party (NDP), Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD-Kenya) and the newly registered SAFINA party -- will share out the 12 slots of nominated MPs with the ruling KANU taking half the seats.
If all the parties decide to heed Mugo's appeal, the number of women MPs would increase to 16.
[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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