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News, 6/16/2017

Women could play a bigger role in Kenyan politics

Many things would be different in Kenya if women had more political power in the country. This is the view expressed by women who are standing as candidates in the August elections and whose goals are supported by Finland.

Despite rapid economic growth and a rising middle class, Kenya remains a poor country characterised by glaring inequality. In August, Kenyans will elect a new president, parliament and district councils.

Priscilla Muema Mumba who is standing for a seat in the Mombasa district council intends to pursue political issues that are important to women. These include practical matters, such as land rights and water management.

“I know that if I am elected, my success would also motivate the poorest women in Kenya. I will tell people that you should vote for me because I know your problems and I want to solve them,” Mumba explains.

Pricilla Mumba
“In Kenya, women do not believe that a woman can lead and that is why women do not vote for us,” explains Priscilla Muema Mumba, who is standing as a candidate for Mombasa district council. Photo: Juho Paavola.

“There would be progress in issues important to Kenyan women if there were more women among decision-makers. Now we must ask men to vote for our initiatives and so far, the results have been poor,” says Hamisa Zaja, who is also standing for a seat in the Mombasa district council.

Political puppets

In Kenya, all candidates are nominated by political parties and women's path is often blocked early on by party-internal power play.

“As women, we are forced to fight our first struggle in our own party where the men form a common front against us. In the parties, we are treated like puppets and usually only weak women candidates are accepted. The only way for women to make progress is to stand united across party lines,” Muema Mumba believes.

According to both candidates, prejudices against women standing for office are strong. Women also lack campaign funds and you can only be elected if you have money. Parties charge high membership fees and registration as a candidate is expensive. At the same time, most parties offer women candidates reduced registration fees.

Hamisa Zaje
Hamisa Zaja is standing for a seat in the Mombasa district council. In the previous election, her path to candidacy was blocked by a lack of funds. Photo: Juho Paavola.

“There are many places where women should not go alone. How and where could I campaign then? I am planning to campaign in the same places as men because that is the only way to succeed,” Muema Mumba explains.

For many years, Finland has supported the promotion of girls’ and women's rights in Kenya. Women have been provided with civic skills so that they would have better chances of making a career in politics. The aim is to ensure that more women will be elected to parliament and district councils in August. There are currently 68 women in the 350-seat Kenyan parliament. The Mombasa district council has 30 members of whom only three are women.

After party-internal primaries, the breakdown of candidates by gender at national level now looks more promising from women's perspective than before the previous elections in 2013.

Curbing violence

In Kibera, Africa's biggest urban slum, women face violence but they also receive support and legal assistance.

“Kenya's constitution, which was adopted in 2010, is very progressive. We have good laws but they must also be made to work,” says Beatrice Njeri, a lawyer in charge of a group providing women living in Kibera with legal aid.

Beatrice Njeri
Beatrice Njeri is also helping women who have been left by their husbands. Child support cases are taken to court, if necessary. Photo: Juho Paavola.

Every year, about 100 cases of sexual violence are reported in Kibera but according to Njeri, the actual figure is much higher.

“Women that have experienced domestic or sexual violence come to talk to us, we will jointly collect the evidence and prepare a legal case. We will stand by the victim until the end of the legal process, which may last three years. The path leading to a court hearing is a painful one. For this reason, many victims are unable to cope with the stress, and give up the fight at some point.”

Tougher sentences

“In the slums, people live in cramped conditions, families are big and the dwellings are close to each other. Because many women are unemployed, men are responsible for supporting their families and they feel that they have the righ to dominate others,” says Njeri, explaining the reasons for the violence.

Kibera 2
Most of Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than a dollar per day. Photo: Juho Paavola.

Last year, a total of 200 cases reached court and the sentences have also become tougher. Recently, a school headteacher received a 15-year prison sentence for rape.

Njeri says that she has succeeded when the perpetrator has been sentenced and the victim can return to her community. However, the abuser often comes from the victim's family or her neighbour, which means that she is no longer able to return to her own home.

“We would very much like to have a place where victims of violence could stay for the duration of the legal process.”

Beatrice Njeri graduated as a lawyer four years ago. Before her current job, she worked as a legal counsel in a company.

“Leaving my previous post for Kibera was an enormous change but I do not have any regrets. I want help the women of Kibera because here I feel that I can really achieve something,” Njeri concludes.

Outi Einola-Head

Finland is promoting the status of women and girls in Kenya

  • Improving the status of women helps to reduce poverty, boost economic growth and make societies more equal.

  • Gender equality is a priority area in the development cooperation country programme between Finland and Kenya. The aim in the programme is to ensure that gender issues are considered in legislation and planning and to combat violence against women.

  • Finland is contributing four million euros to the implementation of the UN Women’s Country Strategy for Kenya between 2016 and 2019. The support is directed at promoting women’s political participation and promoting gender responsive planning and budgeting.

  • Finland is contributing 269,000 euros to combating violence against women in the Kibera slum through the CREAW organisation (Centre for Rights Education and Awareness).

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