Contributor of the Election Safari Program At Siasa place
Is there hope for female politicians in Kericho? Will the county ever have a female Governor, a Senator or even a Member of Parliament? The answer to this question tilts towards the pessimistic side based only on statistics. This is also the case in most parts of the country and it seems that the fate of the country is tied to every single county, as traditional views on female leadership still rule the day.
Kericho is doing poorly as compared to its neighbour Bomet County that is usually presumed to be more traditionally inclined than the former. Bomet County has had a record of three women on the top positions namely; Beatrice Kones, The late Lorna Laboso and Joyce Laboso deputy speaker of the National Assembly who is currently vying for the Bomet Governor seat. These powerful women have risen from just being representatives of Bomet to having had their voices bring change in the country.
I recently attended my Aunt’s funeral service. She was a leader both in the church and at the community level. After mass, a middle-aged woman grabs the microphone and called on women to gather around. I move towards the crowd. She introduces herself as Marsella, a volunteer Community Health Officer her main agenda being; Obstetric Fistula Awareness. She goes on to explain the symptoms associated with the condition and urges them to contact her for free medical assistance.
It was interesting that a majority of the women in the crowd fished out their phones record her contact details. The men around me murmur in low tones. “Marsella couldn’t keep her husband now she has come to destroy our marriages”. From this incident it is important to note that in women’s quarters, natural leaders have emerged to take up the task and their fellow women identify them as their unofficial yet respected leaders and heed to their advice. They are opinion-shapers.
Chamas started out as investment groups, which encouraged savings through merry-go-rounds. Today they also serve as social gatherings where women interact and share. Chamas have gone a long way in empowering economically and politically. These groups of highly organized women with powerful leadership structures have taken over the county. If you take a walk around my village you are likely to come across a water tank built by a local women’s group to cater for their needs and those of their families.
These women are genuinely concerned about development as compared to elected leaders. But a majority of men are against such social gatherings as Chamas. My neighbour had this to say, “Hawa wanawake ambao hawana mabwana ndio wanaharibu wengine. Huyu bibi yangu nilimkataza asikuwe marafiki na wao. Hii maneno ya chama pia nilimkataza ” (The single women are a negative influence to our wives. I cannot allow my wife to join a chama).
Out of 290,458 registered voters in the 2013 General Elections, 139,090 (half) are women. Chakwani ng’o chebioset? (But who will vote for a woman?) Mr. Koech, a friend had this to say. “I would vote for a woman, but they tend to break when under attack by the opposition. They are emotional and this hinders them from effectively carrying out their duties. We have witnessed many who dropped out of the race just because they couldn’t handle pressure from the opposition. They are poor decision makers”
There is a Swahili saying that goes, ‘Adui wa Mwanamke ni Mwanamke’, which loosely translates to; A woman’s enemy is a fellow woman. Despite the numbers, the women themselves don’t believe in the ability of a woman to lead or rather are afraid to vote contrary to the norm. If they can’t get support from their own then who will vote for them? Wives dare not go against their husband’s political stand. I asked my friend Pamela if she reads newspapers or watches the news.
“Baba Kiprop ameiva hii maneno ya siasa. Yeye ndiye ataamua mwenye tutapigia kura.” She states with a chuckle as she peels potatoes. She goes on to confess that the nine o’clock News finds her washing the dishes after supper or taking her kids to sleep. Pamela represents a section of housewives who are not conversant with the politics because their husbands are the one’s who decide who she’ll vote for anyway.
Even as we talk about democracy at the national level we fail to notice that it’s the simple things that matter. Change must begin from the bottom of the pile. Gender Democracy should begin at the ward level and thus rise to the national platform. We should get rid of the stereotypes about women being weak and therefore unable to hold a position of power.
If the likes of Marsella, my aunt and the leaders of Chamas, who promote development projects voluntarily, could get more support from their fellow women then Kericho would have better leaders and that is when real progress would have been made. Among the issues emphasized by the electorate in Kericho is the decline in agricultural output (Plight of Tea Farmers).This issue directly affects them as it is the women who cultivate the tea farms. They should support each other and take it upon themselves to educate themselves on politics.
So, is there hope for Kericho? Will a heroine rise to take charge of the issues affecting the county? Only time will tell.