Low levels of political participation by women has characterised the political landscape in Kwale County in the coastal part of Kenya. This includes the ability to participate effectively in decision-making and leadership be it in the private or public sector. From the just concluded August 8th general elections, Kwale County did not have any woman in elective position for the Member of County Assembly position.
Ms Hamisa Zaja, during one of her radio sessions in radio Kaya, Photo by UN Women/Kennedy Okoth
However, this has not deterred Ms Hamisa Zaja, a mother of two from continuously pushing the women leadership agenda in a society and community that is highly patriarchal and socially constructed gender identities that limit women from decision making positions.
She represents both the women and persons with disability and wants her voice to be heard in decision making spaces so that such pertinent issues of women are addressed.
“If we as women do not try to shutter the patriarchal glass ceiling in the community then who will do it for us? Our voice will be dimmed and our issues not addressed. This is why I vied for political position”
There are several challenges that pose as a set-back to women vying for political positions in the region key to which is the patriarchal nature of the community in the region; heavy financial muscle associated with the process and violence towards women candidates. Economically, women face low levels of participation in economic empowerment due to low levels of education and literacy, access to capital, lack of control of land and productive resources. Retrogressive cultural beliefs and a patriarchal society have pushed women away for participating in the formal sector and actively participating in the economic sector.
In some cases the candidates undergo psychological torture as is the case of Esther, a candidate for the Member of County Assembly position in Kwale County.
“My husband left me once I declared my interest to vie for the MCA position in Kwale. Three weeks to the election I was forced to drop off the race as a result of the financial muscle associated with politics in the region.” She points out
Having undergone these challenges in her bid to vie for the position of women representative, Ms Hamisa found an alternative approach through the local media. Radio Kaya, a UN Women supported programme through the Africa Women and Child Feature Services (AWCFS) offers its space to women in pushing for women inclusion in political and peace processes.
The volatile nature of campaigns and political gathering in the region is one of the reason that has continued to push women off the political spaces in the region. She adds, “I have once been caught up in the chaos and suffered minor injuries.’’ Radio Kaya has offered a safer alternative platform to women to articulate their issues.
Through this platform women are able to reach majority of potential voters and articulate gender issues to the public through targeted programming. Misconception of religion has also played its role in reinforcing the stereotypes of leadership in the region with women not expected to talk about their own issues in public lest they be viewed as disgracing the family, and competing with men which is deemed not right.
“Because of the platform we are accorded in Kwale County through radio Kaya, I am valued as an opinion leader and my opinion in social and political issues is not only appreciated but needed.”
As women whenever we are brought to speak on issues, we bring the perspective of peace, harmony and reconciliation that bonds the community rather than divide it.
Being a woman political aspirant in the region brings with it several challenges including; attacks from other male candidates (both verbally and physically) to the candidates and/or their families. At times the attacks come from within the family set-up.
Through UN Women partnership with AWCFs, women are given platforms in the vernacular Radio Kaya to address the participation of women, young people, and communities in democratic and governance spaces using strategic communication and influencing media content in organizations such as Radio Kaya.
The county government on their part has committed to ensure that they empower women to vie for elective positions by addressing the underlying challenges from education, economic empowerment, mentorship that target women and girls. Having its deputy governor as a woman, the County has given hope to the women in the region to aspire for leadership positions.
As part of the interventions on leadership and governance programme under the “Strengthening the Electoral Processes Programme (SEPK), UN Women seeks to reinforce the promotion of gender equality and social inclusion in the electoral cycle through partnership with strategic state and non-state actors.