After two and a half decades of gender activism, gender sensitization, capacity building, lobbying and mobilizing Kenyan women to take up various political leadership positions, we are seeing progress. Civic, gender and human rights awareness have remarkably improved, along with strategies for policy and advocacy interventions. However, despite these efforts, a critical mass of women in Kenyan parliament continues to be missing. This limits women politicians in their ability to effect significant positive change while transforming the male-dominated culture of parliament and public policy. Further, male dominated political systems ultimately restrict women from influencing resource allocation in a gender equitable manner.
So, what motivates women to seek political leadership? Studies have shown that women develop their vision of leadership from experiences they have as young girls raised within a society with major gender inequalities. When most women get into politics, priorities are guided by their desire to see a world where all people get equal opportunities in life (Kamau, 2011). In Kenya, some of the challenges faced by women politicians and those aspiring to political office, relate to resources, political parties, gender-based violence during elections, general insecurity and lack of positive media coverage. The findings also indicate that society’s understanding of able and effective political leaders is very gendered and skewed against women.
In order to increase the number of successful women political leaders, there is a need for mentoring programmes that will focus not only on increasing the number of women in government, but also enhance women’s effectiveness in political positions and their impact on decision-making. In terms of media, female politicians need a better understanding of how to engage with the media to present women as able leaders who contribute positively to national development. Further, there needs to be a renegotiation of gender roles in the home so that there is more equitable sharing of domestic responsibilities between men and women, allowing young women a chance to participate in politics, just like young men.
In addition, it is necessary to educate society in order to change the way we view effective leadership. Political parties must embrace policies of inclusion focused specifically on gender, such as gender quotas. Civic education needs to condemn all forms of gender-based violence, and especially violence that is targeted at women during political campaigns. Such education needs to go further to re-socialize people around gender equity principles. This should start at an early age, in the home and at school where boys and girls receive messages that encourage them to aspire for political leadership.
Kamau Nyokabi (2011) Women and Political leadership in Kenya. Ten Case Studies. Heinrich Boll Stiftung. East & Horn of Africa.