When Ms Mumbi Kibathi plunged herself into politics in 2013, she expected a smooth ride into the August House. It was not long before the mother of five discovered that campaigns and lobbying to be elected was not a walk in the park.
Ms Kibathi tells Nation that shortly after launching her campaign, she realised she needed to heavily finance her campaigns to woo voters.
To keep her campaign going, she sold her piece of land in Kitengela town. She was vying for the Kikuyu parliamentary seat on the now defunct The National Alliance (TNA) party.
“I sold my piece of land for Sh2.5 million which I used to fund my campaign. It was tough and I realised the biggest challenge women candidates face is lack of finances,” says Ms Kibathi.
Within no time, the money was depleted and she was forced to sell yet another property at Sh4 million so that she could effectively campaign as the clock quickly ticked towards the party primaries.
Still, the money was not enough forcing her to organise for a fundraiser. Unfortunately, this did not yield much.
During party primaries, she lost. Her Sh6.5 million investments in politics went down the drain leaving her in a financial mess.
“I was confident that I was going to win the primaries and that is why I did not hesitate to sell my properties. It left me with no money such that I eventually could not buy food nor pay school fees for my children,” she says.
LEVEL PLAYING GROUND
Ms Kibathi took hard lessons from the experience but says she has not given up on her political ambition. She is eyeing a seat in the 2022 elections.
Local politics, she says, is not woman-friendly especially because it is money driven and most women lack the financial muscle to conduct effective campaigns. This greatly disadvantages them while competing with their male colleagues.
To level the playing ground, Ms Kibathi proposes that political outfits set aside a kitty to support women vying for various seats through their respective parties.
“Political parties should also do branding and procurement of campaign merchandise for women candidates. Nomination fee for women candidates should be abolished so that they can use that money to campaign,” she notes.
Things were no different for Dr Juliet Kimemia who vied for Kiambu County senatorial seat in 2017.
She tells Nation that it was baptism by fire for female candidates who could not match the resources their male rivals splashed on the campaign trail.
“I could not for example, match some of my competitors in the senatorial seat who were very loaded in terms of resources. This helped them mount a robust campaign more so in terms of logistics and branding,” she says.
The lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) adds that women face more challenges in the delicate balance of spending on campaigns and avoiding to destabilise their families financially.
The former aspirant who initially vied for a seat on a Jubilee Party ticket but later decamped to Kanu says she relied on her savings and support from family to fund her campaign.
She adds that her savings got depleted and was helped by UN Women program, which was supporting women candidates.
To ensure fairness, Dr Kimemia says the culture of hand outs has made local elections expensive yet the practice has zero benefit for the community.
Dr Kimemia, who is the Chairperson of Kenya Women Candidates Association, says they have made recommendations to the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs committee to have the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Act amended to have only the ‘best women loser’ or those who come in second, nominated as MPs, senators and MCAs.
She supports calls to have proportional representation in the next General Election saying that will go a long way to ensure gender equality is achieved and will address the financial obstacles women face to get elected.
Women argue that they find it hard to raise the enormous amount needed to fund their campaign, which is the weakest link to proper participation in politics.
In the run up to 2017 General Election, IEBC announced limits to contribution and spending by political parties and candidates, a move largely seen as a bid to level the ground for candidates.
In the new guidelines, the electoral body capped expenditure by any political party in the 2017 poll at Sh15 billion and allowed presidential candidates to spend Sh5.2 billion in the race to State House.
Also capped were campaign resources for governors, senators and woman representatives at Sh433 million.
For MP and MCA seats, the poll agency capped the campaign amount at Sh33 million and Sh10 million respectively.
The commission cited the Constitution, the IEBC Act and the Election Campaign Financing Act, 2013 for publication of the limits on contributions that a political party may receive during the expenditure period of between February 8 and August 8, 2017.
A report published by National Democratic Institute and the Federation of Women Lawyers in 2017, highlights political gains women made during the 2017 elections.
For the first time in Kenya’s history, women were elected to serve as governors and senators, and 29 per cent more women ran for office than in the previous elections, a fact that led to the largest number of women to ever sit at all levels of government.
Women now hold 172 of the 1,883 elected seats in Kenya, up from 145 after the 2013 elections. Additionally, they account for 23 per cent of the National Assembly and Senate.
Despite these gains, the report makes it clear that significant obstacles remain for women seeking elective office.
Although the Constitution mandates that all appointed and elected bodies ensure two-thirds representation of either gender, currently, women’s representation falls short of this threshold.
Culture barring women from active politics
When Grace Aketch Onyango made history to be elected first woman MP in Kenya in 1969, to represent Kisumu Town in Parliament, there was a glim of hope for women’s participation in politics.
But decades later, women still lag behind in the political arena. Deep rooted cultural beliefs and stereotypes against women are among factors barring them from actively participating in elective politics.
During a training in Burnt Forest, male perception towards women’s leadership was cited as the major factor hindering women’s involvement in politics.
Ms Gertrude Chemutai, who contested for Turbo Constituency seat during 2017 General Election, said women are still disadvantaged in politics because it is mainly a male dominated field.
“Men still control the economy and have the financial muscle to run effective campaigns. Our politics requires that one is financially stable to woo voters,” she said during the training organised by Community Education and Empowerment Centre (CEEC).
Ms Chemutai noted that the violence and strong language associated with local politics tends to keep women off.
“Politics is like an exclusive men’s club that women shy away from because of its ‘dirty’ nature. Most people still cling to old perception that one must have physical strength to fight to be elected like what we see when MCAs get physical in the county assemblies,” she explains.
CEEC executive director Jane Maina says her organisation seeks to empower communities and bridge the gap in the electoral process.
“In 2014, when we started operations, we conducted a needs assessment that found out that domestic and electoral-related violence is still rife in the Kenyan society. We started sensitising communities on electoral gender-based violence,” she said.
“For many years, we realise that women are denied a chance to exercise their basic civil rights and that is what we are trying to reverse.”
Ms Maina said CEEC has rolled out trainings targeting women and youth from Murang’a, Uasin Gishu, Kiambu and Nairobi counties.
“Men and women can’t speak or purport to represent the other gender since our experiences, needs and expectations are different. The root of exclusivity of women is flawed masculinity and femininity that hurts a section of the population, “she added.
Participants called for equality in empowering the youth.
“Society needs to strike a balance in empowering young men and women to achieve the required gender balance,” said Stephen Mburu, a participant.
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