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Where Women Are

 | 
Nanjala Nyabola
, 
Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle

Women contesting in the 2017 General Elections in the Coast Region of Kenya: Success and Obstacles

Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen

Résumé

Women’s participation in Kenyan politics has increased in the last two general elections. For example, in the 2013 elections, a record number of 81 women were elected and nominated to the eleventh parliament. In the 2017 general elections, 21 women were elected to Member of Parliament positions, up from 16 women in 2013. However, this increase in the number of women in parliament is not evidence of democratization, and, in most cases, is a deliberate strategy by political parties to both adhere to the legal provisions of the constitution and attract a larger voter base in order to consolidate their power. Against this backdrop, this chapter investigates the factors influencing women’s participation in the 2017 general elections in the coastal region of Kenya. The factors that determine women’s political participation in this region go some way towards explaining the limited number of women involved in politics in Kenya broadly. As such, this chapter seeks to answer the following two questions: 1) What are the ‘glass ceilings’ faced by women in their political careers? 2) How successful were women politicians when campaigning in their constituencies? Based on qualitative interviews with relevant stakeholders, field observations and relevant secondary information, the article highlights the successes and obstacles faced by women candidates from the Coast in their journey towards the 2017 elections.

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Introduction

  • 1 Field notes, during the final outcome of the 2017 elections, 10 August 2017
  • 2 Ms. Hadija Salim, Community Mobilizer, Election Observer for 2017 elections, Kilifi County.

1Looking at the 2017 general elections results and the outcomes of the preliminaries, my colleague – a lecturer who had been monitoring the elections – raised two questions. First, why did so many women drop out from the MCA primaries in the coast constituencies? Second, what motivated women to enter the more prestigious but also more difficult Member of Parliament position races, and what made some of them successful in these political journeys?’1 What follows is a detailed analysis of the performance of women contestants in the 2017 elections in the Coast region of Kenya, prompted by the aforementioned questions. While international and domestic conventions, pressure group actions and legislation have increased the opportunities for women to participate in electoral contests, this dynamic suggests a top-down approach and does not, for example, reflect commitment from political parties, or county, ward or community perspectives. Rather, as one community informant put it, one can say that this approach makes evident the “lacking community attitude, belief and perception of the need for women in political positions to serve their people.”2

2At the Coast in 2017, some progress was evident as three women - - Ms. Aisha Jumwa Karisa from Malindi (Kilifi), Mishi Juma Mboko from Likoni (Mombasa) and Naomi Shaban, an incumbent from Taita Taveta, - won the MP positions they ran for after a tough contest against male counterparts. Yet, despite these notable successes, a majority of experienced women contestants, at various levels, dropped out due to structural factors that hindered their progress.

3This chapter elaborates on the successes and the obstacles faced by women during their 2017 electoral bids in the Coast region. Given the limited number of women involved in politics in this area, it is important to reflect on the following question: what factors hinder women’s participation in elections? And to answer this main question, the article raises two sub-questions: first, what are the ‘glass ceilings’ faced by women in their political careers? second, how successful were women politicians when campaigning in their constituencies?

4The research comprised of qualitative interviews with relevant stakeholders; namely six women aspiring to political positions, four academics working on issues relevant to women’s empowerment, and three female activists working with community based organizations. In addition, the author was an observer in two political campaigns for women aspirants, and four discussion forums related to women and elections. Field data for a period of six months, from these discussions platforms and field observations, constitutes the primary references for this study. Relevant secondary information gathered from newspaper articles, websites, blogs and social media complemented the study. Some MCA aspirants were kind enough to meet the author – almost five times, and recounted relevant stories of other candidates and political issues in the coast. These discussions with informants were conducted at key moments: before primaries, after primaries, after nominations and after the elections. Despite these successes, the study faced more limitations than envisioned. For example, a majority of the selected women aspirants were unable to give interviews due to time constraints. They were also afraid of supplying outsiders with their personal details and campaign strategies. In some cases, after following the aspirant for many days, interviews were declined for no reason. Others contestants openly stated that they could not trust the researcher at this particular juncture of their political campaigns fearing that the information would be misused by their competitors. Despite this, other informants could, at times, provide much needed information about different stakeholders, in this way filling in some of the gaps enabled by the female political contestants who were unwilling to speak to the researcher.

5The chapter is divided into four sections. Following the introduction, the first section contextualizes women’s participation in Coast politics. The second section describes the factors which facilitate or hinder women’s political participation at the Coast, taking into consideration the glass ceilings faced by women in their political journeys. The third section analyses how women strategized for their campaigns, and details the successes they experienced because of particular strategies. The final section has concluding remarks and a summary of the main findings.

Contextualizing Women’s Participation in Coast Politics

6Kenya’s Coast region lies along the Indian Ocean, and has six counties: Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Tana River and Taita Taveta. The region is economically dependent on tourism, the port and the mining of natural resources such as titanium. Inhabitants of this region argue that they have been victims of discriminatory policies by successive governments since independence, and this has hampered the socio-economic development of the region. This results in tensions including the following key contentions that: 1) The local community lacks title deeds for land and therefore land ownership and attendant economic investments benefit those from other regions; 2) There is mismanagement of government funds and coastal resources including port employment opportunities and revenue; 3) Unemployment and illiteracy are high and there are limited educational opportunities. As such, the Coast region of Kenya is characterised by tensions between ‘Coasterians’ (locals) versus ‘outsiders’ from other parts of the country and from the West (IPSOS, 2013). This underdevelopment has arguably led to the rise of a secessionist movement called the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) (Goldsmith, 2011), the heightened recruitment of young people by the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab and other vigilante associations like Kayo Bombo, as well as the formation of local gangs.

7The region is in fact one of the most diverse in the country, and houses the indigenous Mijikendas (‘nine tribes’), Swahili (Arab Africans), and other Kenyan ethnic groups. Faiths such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and indigenous cosmological practices shape the religious space, although Islam dominates. Culturally, the religious, ethnic and indigenous structures shaped patriarchy in the constituencies, moulding perceptions and attitudes that widely affect women in leadership positions (Nordstrom, 2013). With modernization and exposure to technology and media, there have been changes in attitudes in the counties, demonstrated by the acceptance of women’s participation in politics (Alidou, 2013). Further impetus also comes from changes in the political structures, mainly with the national legal framework, which operationalized gender equality through the two-thirds gender rule. Women’s inclusion in politics became necessary because of the gender quota and women’s positioning as capable candidates for political positions (Kaimenyi et al, 2013). Just as in many other parts of the country, prior to the 2013 elections women were rarely considered for political positions in the Coast, but after the 2013 elections a host of changes as MPs and, 2017 saw three women elected into parliament as MPs.

  • 3 Field Notes, after the preliminaries, 17 May 2017.

8Devolution, triggered by the 2010 Constitution and officially implemented after the 2013 election, is often offered as a solution for underdevelopment and marginalisation, and since then there is considerable evidence of increased local ownership of development. One positive aspect of devolution has been its ability to provide political space to grassroots politicians, strengthening the role of locally elected representatives such as the Member of County Assemblies (MCA). In fact, the position of MCA has had a profound impact, since they are the closest politicians to the electorate. Consequently, there is a high level of dependency on the MCAs by MPs and Governors. Yet, paradoxically, interviewees also highlighted the weakened role of MCAs who are unable to do their work since they must remain loyal to their Governor.3

  • 4 Field Notes, after the preliminaries, 17 May 2017.
  • 5 Field Notes, 12 May 2017.

9Devolution and the current political landscape have been particularly transformative of the Coast. The region is a stronghold of the opposition party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). This adds to the existing difficulty associated with political bargaining at the national level. Regular conflicts with the ruling party have impeded development initiatives such as the construction of the Nyali-Mombasa Bridge.4 Within such a context, women require even more bargaining efforts and skills within the national government. Furthermore, the victory of women in at the Coast is tied to the popularity of their party in this region. Most aspirants intended to join ODM, as it made community acceptance easier. However, they had to manoeuvre party politics as aspirants before they could be selected at the primaries.5

  • 6 Field Notes, after the preliminaries, 17 May 2017.

10Devolution has, however, triggered a new form of marginalization within existing socio-political leadership structures. Most of the issues point to the overall marginalizatio of the coast, or ‘marginalization within’ after devolution, where ruling elites take control and created ethnic favouritism in service delivery. This affects both men and women alike, however, much of this inordinately impacts women “who are more involved in the micro unit of the community” and take control of domestic spheres affected by poverty.6 Marginalization affects women differently as most socio-economic constraints impacts the woman in her domestic role, as she seeks to fulfill basic needs such as, for example, children’s schooling and family health issues. Women representatives are thus expected to be vocal on issues concerning the County, and issues affecting women: they are required to respond to the ‘expectations of women’ and be a ‘voice for women.’ Against this background, key questions are prompted in public discourse such as: have women politicians responded well to the expectations that they should represent both women and their counties? Also, how do local communities support these female politicians to enable them to perform their role adequately?

Factors Facilitating and Hindering Women’s Political Participation in the Coast

11The factors that contribute to the lack of female political representation in the Coast region are varied. In elaborating on the ‘glass ceilings’ that prevent women from running in elections, this section distinguishes between supply-side factors and demand-side factors within the social, economic and political context of this region. Supply-side factors increase the number of women available to contest in elections, capturing phenomena such as their will, financial resources, skills and their experiences running against men for political office. Demand-side factors focus on the political systems or parties and electoral systems that introduce women to political positions (Krook, 2010). In addition, a third cross-cutting explanation that affects both supply and demand is the existing culture, attitudes and beliefs of the respective constituencies in which they intend to contest (Awofeso & Odeyemi, 2014). Finally, institutional regulations, such as gender quotas, also play a prominent role in shaping women’s access to political positions (Franceschet et al, 2012).

12One obvious explanation for the lack of women in politics is supply: there simply aren’t enough women trying to enter electoral politics. Many factors relate to this, for example: interest in political office, lack of ambition, sufficient knowledge of political roles and their constituencies, and availability of resources such as time, finances, civic skills and networks. However, these factors are linked, above all, to women’s socialization since this will dictate one’s interest, ambition and knowledge, while also making evident structural impediments to, for example, education and employment (Krook, 2010).

  • 7 Field Discussion after the elections, 18 October 2017.
  • 8 Interview with Ms. Mary Akinyi, Aspirant MCA, Mombasa, 12 March 2017.

13Political ambition is key if women are to succeed as aspirants. Among the three women who won Coast MP positions in the 2017 elections is Aisha Jumwa Karisa Katana, who successfully claimed the Malindi Constituency seat for ODM. She had to wrestle her male counterparts to achieve her political ambitions: beginning as a former Woman Representative in Kilifi and then running against seven men for the MP seat in 2017 – beating all of them despite being the only woman on the ballot.7 At the same time, there are many stories of women losing. Mary Akinyi, an incumbent aspiring for the MCA position from Airport Ward, Mombasa, highlighted the importance of political ambition. Despite not making it in the party primaries in 2017, she had not given up stating that “there was always a next time, this is going to make me stronger for the next time.” To these ends, Akinyi was already focused on re-integrating herself into community projects in Mombasa, so as to foster rapport with her existing and future supporters in preparation for the next election in 2022.8

  • 9 Interview with Ms. Regina Chisenga, Aspirant for MP seat Kilifi North, 18 April 2017.
  • 10 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 22 May 2017.
  • 11 Interview with Ms. Grace Oloo, Aspirant, 12 March 2017.

14Apart from interest and ambition, women also had fewer resources to participate in electoral politics. One critical resource is time: women have much less time to spend in the public sphere than men, since they are often engaged in domestic labour including cooking, cleaning and child rearing (Haggart & Scheidt, 2005). All of the women interviewed cited ‘time’ as a glass ceiling in politics, principally because they were heavily engaged in their role’s as mothers and wives, and, consequently, unable to campaign as much as their male colleagues.9 In contrast, men are able to spend more time in their constituencies with no adverse effects on their families, since they depend on their partners to take care of the domestic sphere.10 Grace Oloo, a political aspirant, affirms that women participating in politics may be trapped in their motherly roles unless men share parenting responsibilities and accept women as career women.11

  • 12 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 14 May 2017.

15Women’s political participation is also affected by the lack of financial and human capital needed to run for office, since this is tied to education, employment and other community networking skills. In the Coast, similar to other regions, women are treated as secondary when it comes to education. This enables a situation “where many girls are easily left out by the education system due to cultural and economic reasons such as poverty.”12 These factors affect the interest in and knowledge of political positions women will have when compared with men (Fortin-Rittberger, 2016).

  • 13 Field discussions with women aspirants, 14 May 2017.

16In addition, all women aspirants interviewed described their journey towards nominations at the primaries, as well as the final elections, as a difficult endeavor.13 This means that, overall, less women seek office or work behind the scenes in politics (Krook & Childs, 2010). For example, Mary Akinyi explained that she had to personally accommodate her voters at the primaries for a period of time due to her fear that they would be intimidated or have their votes bought. Highlighting this she said:

I had to keep my voters in my house. They were expecting that I should provide them with food and protection until the elections. They feared intimidation from the other candidate aspiring for the same MCA position. There was also the aspect of buying votes from the other candidate (Mary Akinyi, personal communication).

17Further, she explained that after all the struggle, “you may not make it to the primaries due to party politics.”

  • 14 Field Discussion with MCAs, 12 March 2017.
  • 15 Field Discussion with MCAs, 12 May 2017.
  • 16 Field Discussions, 24 August 2017.

18Favourtism within political parties can affect women who, while are willing to serve their constituencies, lack party clout. Some explained that political parties favoured women who agreed with all of what the party members were saying, and anyone who offered a different critical perspective was not viewed positively. Women were expected to perform supporting roles rather than be active participants in the constituencies.14 Some expressed concerns that a woman’s career in the party was directly tied to how they defended their leaders, even if the leader’s approach may not yield results. An interviewee revealed how in one instance, an elected female official who had defended a party leader, was rewarded with a higher political position. Women are still expected to agree with men’s views since men are the putative leaders, and failure to do so may jeopardise women’s chances in the party.15 Still, not all women were passive followers. Notably, Zuleikha Hassan (Woman Rep, Kwale) and Aisha Jumwa (MP, Malindi) confronted their bosses and their male counter parts in their journeys towards political positions.16 Hassan vocally blamed Mombasa governor and ODM deputy Hassan Joho for interfering with Kwale politics. She stated that, whether leaders are bad or good, Kwale people should be allowed to choose the ones they want. In addition she asked “Joho to allow candidates to fight it out with their competitors during the polls” (Just40days, 2017).

  • 17 Field Discussions, 17 May 2017.

19Political opportunities for women, enabled by factors such as gender quotas, political parties privileging women’s participation, or community acceptance of females contesting for political positions, could facilitate the ‘demand side’ of women’s participation in politics (Krook, 2010). In Kenya, women account for more than 50 % of the population and require political representation. The 2010 Constitution contains gender quotas and, along with devolution, brought about more opportunities for women’s political representation. Gender quotas allowed for the slow but steady increase in the number of women representatives in the country (Nordstrom, 2013). At the Coast, where gender quotas facilitated the entry of many talented women into the political arena.17 At the same time, it is important to distinguish between symbolic or substantive women’s representation in parliament (Lawless, 2004). On this, Hadija explained that the increase in the number of women in parliament may not have an impact if they are suppressed by their male counterparts and do not have the power and capability to drive policy (Goetz & Hassim, 2003)

  • 18 Interview with Ms. Mary Akinyi, incumbent, aspirant For MCA seat Airport Ward, 12 May 2017.
  • 19 Interview with Ms. Regina Chishenga, Aspirant for MP seat Kilifi North, 18 April 2017.
  • 20 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 14 May 2017.
  • 21 Field discussion after elections, 21 August 2017.

20Akinyi explained that adhering to gender quotas increases the appeal of political parties to the public, since it shows that “women’s concerns are represented.” Yet, this is often a double-sided situation. Reflecting on this, Akinyi shared that, in her role as an MCA she often spoke often on health issues like mismanagement at hospitals and other aspects of County neglect. This was not well received by the County Assembly, even if it was applauded by the public. Despite this, she concludes that “we need to speak up and have the ability to negotiate, its important. It can be painful for some members, but I said what I have to say.”18 All the same, “women need to tread carefully in varied party political arenas, as it still is a man’s world. We are still seen as outsiders in a man’s world” shared another female politician.19 In such a situation, for a woman to contest or run for office they must be selected and supported by a political party often dominated by men. Parties that encourage and offer resources to women lure talented women.20 And if women hold prominent positions in parties, it works favourably for other women aspirants since they try to support their colleagues’ career in the party, for example, by introducing the candidate to the constitutuents or making financial contributions to facilitate their entry. This was the case for the elected women representative of Kilifi, Gertrude Mbeyu Mwanyanje, who was mentored by the former women representative Aisha Jumwa Karisa Katana (presently an elected MP in Malindi, Kilifi) (Daily Nation, 2017a). The fact that there are now three women MP’s from the Coast may further impact the number of women politicians, since this could influence political parties to involve women in greater numbers within their operations.21

Women Candidates and their Campaigns

21Campaign resources, political ambition and favourable party opportunities shape women’s access to political opportunities. The 2017 elections at the Coast region saw strategic campaigns launched by women. In these campaigns women formulated key themes, while also working to overcome gender stereotypes, build their image, and integrate gender and other identities in their electoral efforts. Women also used social media in their strategies. Apart from campaign resources, which were considered a main impediment to contesting, gender stereotypes hindered women candidates from garnering sufficient voter support. Navigating the gendered terrain in campaigns was not easy, and each experience, though varied, was defined by factors such as political party reluctance, ethnic challenges and the challenges particular to the political position being sought (Dittmart, 2015; Bhalotra et al, 2016).

  • 22 Interview with Ms. Maryam, Zahur, Student Leader, Mombasa, 20 June 2017.
  • 23 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 14 May 2017.

22Strategic campaigning is core to shaping public attitudes and the perceptions of women candidates by community members (Aalberg & Jenssen, 2007). Like many other parts of the country, the acceptance of women as political representatives has not been easy due to prevailing cultural and religious beliefs in the Coast region. Such cultural arguments against women in leadership positions hinder women’s participation in electoral politics (Awofeso & Odeyemi, 2014). The belief that a women belongs to the private sphere and has no ability to participate in politics is still present in Kenya (Alidou, 2013) and these cultural attitudes affect women’s access to political positions: it affects a woman’s decision to enter politics, whether a party will select women candidates, and the decisions made by voters on election day.22 Despite all the awareness spread through national and local media programmes, women still believe that leadership belongs to men. Changing prevalent attitudes cannot happen when women themselves view other women contestants unfavourably.23 Regina Chisenge, aspirant for MP seat in Kilifi North, said:

  • 24 Interview with Ms. Regina Chisenge, aspirant for MP seat in Kilifi North, 14 April 2017.

Slowly communities are changing to accept women, it’s a gradual change, but it is positive. Women who were elected in the past should show what they could do as leaders. If they act as good role models, communities will learn to accept women’24

  • 25 Interview with Ms. Witness Tsuma, aspirant for women representative seat in Kilifi, 18 April 2017.

23Women must also navigate cultural beliefs rooted in religion during electoral campaigns. Witness Tsuma, an aspirant, identified religion as the main source of cultural beliefs in her constituency. Most of the people are Muslims, and she believes that in Islam women are not traditionally favoured to participate in the political sphere.25 At the coast, Islamic laws are interpreted to constrain the activities of women. This patriarchal view on the place of women in society is hard to break (Alidou, 2013). To resolve this tension other aspirants shared that:

  • 26 Discussion with Ms. Grace Oloo after the Preliminaries, 16 May 2017.

We women have to first break the existing cultural beliefs about women by discussing Islam or religion in detail: by searching for Quranic or religious statements which discuss women’s positions, and also by discussing who are Muslim role models. Sometimes we go to the extent of asking for assistance from Imam’s and village elders to discuss the ability of women to be leaders. We are looking forward to bringing this change, which will change people’s perceptions.26

24In contrast, Grace Oloo explained that religious leaders have been helpful in her campaigns:

  • 27 Field Observation, Campaign meeting 5 August 2017.

their role is important to change perceptions and attitudes.” Men in leadership positions who promote women aspirants can have a positive role in ensuring women access political opportunities. These same religious and cultural beliefs facilitate the political careers of female aspirants who run for positions exclusively reserved for women. Here religion and cultural beliefs can work to their advantage, as they did for the Asha Hussein Mohamed - the elected Woman Representative for Mombasa. That Asha Mohamed is a Muslim who understands Coast culture and claims party affiliation to ODM, certainly led to her re-election in 2017.27

25The ways in which contestants presented themselves in the 2017 elections affected their campaigns. Most campaigns by women conformed to societal expectations. In this regard, men were habitually associated with ‘toughness, ’ while women were more likely to be viewed as ‘compassionate.’ As such, men were generally perceived as more emotionally suited for politics than women. Still, during actual voting some women were actually seen as equally tough, even while they still had keep up with the expectations associated with women for fear of being deemed ‘not feminine enough.’

  • 28 Field discussion, MCAs, Mombasa after nominations, 11 May 2017.

26Gender perceptions are also projected into the issues advocated by the contestants. Women are considered better when it comes to issues such as poverty, education, drug abuse and health care; at the Coast, women’s areas of expertise were considered to be health, education, water issues, the environment, women’s and youth empowerment and girl child education. Men are preferred for economic policies, agriculture or trade issues.28 As mentioned earlier, sometimes these stereotypes work to the benefit of women aspirants on the campaign trail, and, it is important to note that despite longstanding stereotypes about women’s innate ability to lead, women do receive votes from other women (Brooks, 2013).

  • 29 Field Discussion after the 2017 elections, 26 August 2017.
  • 30 Field Discussion after the 2017 elections, 26 August 2017.

27Walking the line between ‘not woman enough’ and ‘not politician enough’ is not easy for women political candidates (Aalberg & Jenssen, 2007). Some manage this delicate balance better than others: Zulekha Juma, the elected Women Representative in Kwale, portrayed herself effectively as simultaneously feminine, religious, tough and ready for the job. This hints at an important aspect: sometimes women vote for other women not solely because of their gender but because of their capabilities.29 For example, Asha Mohamed, the elected Women Representative of Mombasa, used her emotional appeal, humility and prior experiences to gain acceptance and launch a political campaign in her constituency.30

  • 31 Interview with Ms. Witness Tsuma, aspirant for women representative, Kilifi County, 18 April 2017.

28The perception of women as emotional can be instrumental to winning the trust of particular constituents. Witness Tsuma highlighted that this “nature” helped attract youth who felt a “mother” could understand their plight -- the ‘mama’ role worked well with this demographic.31 This image building linked to gender stereotypes is vital, and allows women to create opportunities using a ‘mama’ profile. All the women aspirants interviewed made use of their profile as mothers in their campaigns.

  • 32 Interview with Ms. Regina Chisenge, 18 April 2017.

29Expectations about the behavior and dress code of women aspirants further shaped the campaign terrain. According to Dittmar (2015), women can take advantage of these gender stereotypes during their campaigns for instance by dressing according to the societal expectations. Regina Chisenge, an aspirant for MP, in Kilifi North, explained that during campaigns “you need to change your wardrobe. It’s a costly affair. Your dress should portray maturity and a ‘fit for the job’ attitude.” However, dressing properly is not equal to wearing brands and exhibiting catwalk behavior.32 Too much glamour when a community expects a conservatively dressed candidate will allow that aspirants be read as “womanly in sexy terms,” but unable to perform in political office. Speaking to this, Oloo, a political aspirant, shared that:

It does not mean overdoing it… we have cases, women overdo their physical appearance to the extent that party members and community members view them as models rather than politicians. We need women who think with their brains, not those that outdo others in clothes and makeups (Grace Oloo, personal communication).

  • 33 Interview with Ms. Grace Oloo, aspirant, 21 April 2017.

30Oloo also emphasized that with image one also needs to change the way they talk, address gatherings and conduct all affairs; ultimately, modify oneself to make sure you reflect the constituency you intend to serve.33

  • 34 Interview with Ms. Mary Akinyi, incumbent and MCA aspirant, 12 March 2017.
  • 35 Field Discussion Student Leaders, 14 August 2017.

31The ways that candidates included their personal life in electoral campaigns also affected their candidature either positively or negatively. For some, there is a need to “talk about your children” or “your husband” so as to create the impression of being “family oriented” or “supported by the family.”34 Asha Mohamed (Mama Mlenzi), a former nominated MCA and aspirant, highlighted the positive role her husband played supporting her journey as a woman aspirant (The Coast Counties Watch, 2017). Such portrayals paint a positive image and can translate to increased support from a diversity of community members.35

  • 36 Field discussion on Zulekha as she takes a strong position against her boss – the governor, 9 July  (...)
  • 37 Field discussion with Ms. Hadija Salim, Community Mobilizer, Community Based Organization, Malindi, (...)

32Being aggressive can be a blessing in disguise for many women contestants. For some community members, it demonstrates that the candidate does not tolerate inefficiency in their constituency.36 Aisha Jumwa had to change her strategy as she moved from being a Women Representative to an MP position in Kilifi, and, as a consequence, male candidates for the MP position made negative comments about her. To negotiate this, her campaigns became more expressive: she used strong rhetoric to portray her role as a woman who could understand her constituency, concretising what she wanted for the people, and she believes this helped her win.37

  • 38 Field discussion, 21 April 2017.
  • 39 Field discussion, 11 May 2017.

33For many political candidates, ethnic politics had a bearing on their electoral campaigns. Oloo, hails from the Western part of Kenya and suffered stigmatization in her campaigns because of her origins.38 Her identity as a “person from the west” superseded a coastal identity despite her residence in this region for over fifteen years. Therefore, women contestants need to be cognisant of religious and ethnic dynamics within the populations they intend to serve, especially since “people understand that a woman contestant would favour her tribe and religion [and] women voters may be divided accordingly.”39 These incidences illustrate that for women aspirants such as Oloo, geography mattered: where you were born affected one’s campaign chances and this inevitably illustrated the multiple layers of stigmatisation women, and particularly those not native to this region, underwent.

34Women must gain support locally using community structures to be successful in politics. Apart from being educated and experienced in community development work, the women interviewed here are all deeply embedded in their communities. All interviewees had ten to fifteen years of experience working for their respective communities and they used this social capital to develop new approaches for their campaigns. Speaking to this, one candidate shared that:

  • 40 Interview with Regina Chishenga, MP aspirant Kilifi North.

We have the same problems year after year, repeated throughout every election campaign by all contestants. It is important as women to highlight what we could do differently in our constituencies, that we understand community issues as mothers in the community [and are therefore] responsible. Hence my strategy was to constantly highlight the aspect of accountability by asking questions such as: Where does the money allocated into constituencies go? What happened to the promised projects? Will the cycle of deceit be continued or do we need change? I think this type of thinking is well received by many people. I come out with facts [… ]40

35Integrity as a campaign caption is closely tied to good governance and democratisation, and in a context where more women in political office demand integrity, this means more democracy. Similar views on integrity were echoed by Akinyi who prioritised integrity in her campaign and touted it as a means to ensure development in her ward. Since more women are speaking about the absence of integrity in their predecessors tenure, there is more awareness about what has not worked, with regard to, for example, educational bursaries. In this breath of the issues women candidates prioritised centered on the family, since the impact of undue policies and practices are felt principally at the household level, and, therefore, inordinately affecting women.

36Most successful campaigns were also dependent on prior electoral experiences founded on socio-economic development. This was the case for Naomi Shaban, as well as for Zuleikha Hassan, a former nominated MP, who set up a cashewnut factory to assist cashew farmers long in need of support. Zuleikha said:

I have already invested at least Sh4 million to set up the factory that will provide a source of income to the people of Kwale. I don’t want my people to rely on the government for everything (Zuleikha Hassan, personal communication).

  • 41 Statements made during the debate at the Kenya School of Government in Matuga, as reported in the D (...)

37Besides setting up the factory, Zuleikha said she would invest heavily in empowering women and bring an end to the water shortage in affected areas, efforts that are intended to garner her votes in the future.41

38Prior experience competing against men influences the campaign behavior of women. Grace Oloo, who was competing for an MCA seat in Tudor Ward for the second time, and this time against six male contestants, hints at the challenges she encountered in her nomination and the different strategies it prompted. She said:

  • 42 Interview with Ms. Grace Oloo, Aspirant for MCA, Mombasa, 12 March 2017.

The road has not been easy, it’s not easy to be competing with men who have the ability to win due to their nature of contesting and strategising. Most of the strategic party meetings happen in the ‘after meetings, ’ in settings women have less access to. This includes what I would like to refer to as ‘meetings after 12pm, ’ in pub settings or in settings where party members are relaxed after a long day of meetings. Just tell me, how can we as women [with family responsibilities] be part of such informal meetings? How will we be viewed after being part of these meetings at these odd hours? Support by your immediate family is vital for the success of your campaigns. You need to be ready for these types of meeting, which needs a great deal of your family support… families need to be prepared for your endeavour (Grace Oloo, personal communication).42

39Difficulties around financing campaigns prevents many women from making it in primaries. Regina Chishenga, an MP aspirant for Kilifi North, highlighted the need for sufficient finances to boost her political efforts, since there is the expectation by many participating community members that they will receive money during these campaigns. Emphasising this, she lamented that:

You need money to give your community members as they await for money to be given. They even measure your caliber by how much money you can offer [and this then is an indication of] the positive changes you can bring into the community (Regina Chisenga, personal communication).

40Furthermore, the logistics of traveling to distant constituencies, often at night, impedes women’s campaign efforts. Reflecting on this, Witness Tsuma from Kilifi shared the following:

  • 43 Interview with Ms. Witness Tsuma, Kilifi, 18 April 2017.

The timings you need to spend in the community during campaigns, it is a game of numbers. You ought to do whatever possible to retain or increase the number of supporters. This mainly includes door to door campaigns in the evenings, which often stretch long in to the night. If you need to meet community members, you need to go in the evenings due to their availability. In most of the areas logistics become the main issue when campaigning (Witness Tsuma, personal communication).43

  • 44 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 23 May 2017.

41This candidate added that women need to be prepared to respond to sexist remarks from community members and, primarily, the opposition. An academic observer explained that “today social media is used extensively for propagating sexist remarks about female candidates during campaigns.”44 This affects their families since:

  • 45 Interview with Ms. Regina Chishenga, Kilifi, 18 April 2017.

As women this becomes a difficult challenge, as it is these same community members that would gossip saying ‘decent women would not be out at this time of the hour.’ Such gossip usually affects our men, who feel we are not safe outside or we are humiliating them. We may have understanding men, but still, this type of gossip affects our families and our campaigns.45

Conclusion and the Way Forward

  • 46 Discussion with Student Leader, Ms. Sauda Hamisi, 12 April, 2017.

42Breaking the glass ceiling for women aspirants requires efforts at all levels: the community, county and nation. The effects of the glass ceiling for women contesting for political positions is evident at all stages and spaces of their campaigns; it is embedded in the socio-economic and political structures at the local, county and national levels. Like many other regions in Kenya, the Coast region also exhibits patriarchal norms that enable the political space to favour and be dominated by men. Women and girls aspiring to political positions have to counter these patriarchal norms within communities and their own families, and in so doing are even portrayed as ‘unfeminine’ since they are going against established norms.46

43Broader awareness will also help position women as leaders and as politicians. All interviewees agreed on the need for long-term empowerment programmes for community members, rather than capacity building initiatives solely for women contestants during the election period in the region. Witness Tsuma and Virginia Chishenga, both political candidates from Kilifi, conveyed the need for a long-term systemic empowerment strategy to help communities accept the leadership of women. In addition, women politicians need empowerment immediately after the end of an election period, as opposed to the empowerment programmes that begin only a few months prior to the ballot, to allow them to begin planning for the next election. According to them, such short-term empowerment and sensitization initiatives do not yield results because:

  • 47 Check original for this Endnote

People need systemic change, which needs to be gradual, as attitudes take time to change and accept women in leadership positions. It is not an easy task that can be done by a few awareness programmes [that begin] a few months prior to the elections.47

  • 48 Interview with Ms. Evalyne Odongo, Lawyer, 24 June 2017.

44Capacity building programmes by NGOs and INGOs played a positive role in promoting women as candidates. Regina Chishenga explained how the empowerment programmes initiated by various nongovernmental organizations, such as Muhuri and Haki Africa, enabled women to express interest in candidacy, and imparted them with various campaigning skills. However, there is much more to be done to facilitate the full political rights of women at the Coast. In this vein, Evalyne Odongo, a local lawyer, explained that capacity building should go beyond facilitating the development of campaign strategizing skills and should include training to make sure women know how to “deliver” when they attain elected positions. This involves skills for lobbying and advocacy on behalf of the people they represent.48 Emphasizing this point Odongo shares that:

Women are vocal but not vocal enough if it does not reach the right corridors or the right person. It also entails how awomen maneuvers and articulates her position and the needs of her electorates (Evalyne Odongo, personal communication).

  • 49 Interviews with Ms. Witness Tsuma and Ms. Virginia Chisenga, 18 April 2017.
  • 50 Field Discussion after the elections, 14 October 2017.

45Gender socialization processes are embedded in culture, which is essentially molded by religion. Religion can facilitate cultural transformations that could change prevailing attitudes and facilitate voting for women.49 Witness Tsuma discussed how she used religious leaders to talk to constituencies within church and youth networks to further her campaigns. Similarly, Asha Hussein Mohamed, the ODM elected women representative in Mombasa, framed herself as a “soft-spoken woman Muslim” in her campaigns, and this allowed her to appeal to the demographic she sought support from.50

  • 51 Field notes, 9 July 2017.

46However, as with male politicians, women politicians were critiqued for the work they had been doing since they entered office.51 Some women in political positions had been very vocal, taking a prominent role in assembly committees and policy making. A good example of this is Naomi Shaban, an elected MP, who has had extensive experience working for her constituency. Yet, not all women elected to political office brought change. Where many factors impede their ability to act while in political office, community members were unhappy with their performance. Akinyi explained that the functions of those in political office are usually dependent on budget allocations, favouritism and government dynamics. In her case, regardless of how vocal she was, it made no impact if the predominantly male members of the County Assembly did not support her. Oloo further reiterated that women may be present in assembly committees but will not voice their opinions, and will prefer to support the decisions made by their political leadership.

  • 52 Interview with Ms. Hadija Salim, Community Mobilizer, Kilifi, 24 August 2017.

47If the numbers increased could women influence policy better? On this question, the women interviewed were undecided. Hadija Salim, a community mobilizer, explained that it would be better to have more women as it could generate more legislation that directly affects women.52 In contrast, Oloo explained that it is the personality, talent and experience of the women candidates that counts more when it comes to passing legislation, rather than the numbers: numbers are needed but it should not lead to a situation where there is token rather than substantive representation.

  • 53 Interview with Ms. Witness Tsuam, 18 April 2017.
  • 54 Interview with Ms. Regina Chishenga, 18 April 2017.
  • 55 Interview with Ms. Sauda Hamisi, Student Leader, 16 May 2017.

48More broadly, if more women were represented in a diversity of prestigious occupations, as, for example, lawyers and administrators in government institutions, there could be more female participation in electoral politics. These professions, beyond the experience they avail, could also provide women with the financial resources, social networks and skills needed for electoral campaigns as well as political positions when these were attained (Oxley & Fox, 2004). Witness Tsuma from Kilifi used her experiences as a teacher, as a former officer at the county education office and her elected position as the chairperson for women in Kilifi, among other pertinent roles, to make a transition to politics. Her activism, civic skills and networks greatly benefited her in this campaign.53 Similarly, Chishenga, an MP aspirant in Kilifi North, used her volunteering and business networks to advance her campaign.54 Hassan, the Women Representative for Kwale, was considered a role model in her County because of her prominent role in bringing new projects to the region.55 She built her political profile on her educational and work background in development, and this enabled her to be nominated for a Member of Parliament position in 2013. While in this position, she was part of various pertinent commitees, including on youth affairs and agriculture, livestock and cooperatives, while simultaneously taking up advocacy roles for issues such as the mismanagement of the women saving funds (Kenya Women Parliamentary Association, 2017), and also advocating for opposition to the exploration licensing of the Base Titanium Company (The Coast Reporter, 2016).

  • 56 Interview with Ms. Mary Akinyi, 12 March 2017.
  • 57 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 14 May 2017.

49The media also contributes significantly to women’s political success. Akinyi explained that the media publicized women aspirants profiles, achievements and campaign themes. Community media forums provided more air-time for women contestants to share their strategies, and this permitted direct engagement with potential constituents. In addition, articles in websites such as Coastweek, have helped profile women contestants.56 New forums such as the televised County debates have provided a new platform for women candidates, allowing their constituents to get a sense of who they are and the role they have played in their constituencies. Some candidates shun the media and related forums, and this has affected their campaigns since people can then view them as highly incompetent.57 Therefore, Oloo urges women to strengthen their knowledge of and expertise on wider county issues, and beyond, and to share these views in wider fora in order to be successful with all constituents – both male and female.

50In addition, women politicians need to work together to train and support the next generation of women aspirants. The mentorship of aspiring women candidates is important, since it allows a new cohort to learn from the experiences of current women politicians. This also requires the compilation of relevant information on women politicians as role models: to inspire and provide lessons for new aspirants.

  • 58 Field discussion after elections, 24 August 2017.

51Finally, optimism is important. The two new women MP’s from the Coast, Aisha Jumwa and Mishi Mboko, show that when women run for political office they can win.’58 Therefore, it is the scarcity of women candidates rather than the poor performance of women candidates that seems to explain the slow pace of women’s representation and success in politics.

Bibliographie

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Notes

1 Field notes, during the final outcome of the 2017 elections, 10 August 2017

2 Ms. Hadija Salim, Community Mobilizer, Election Observer for 2017 elections, Kilifi County.

3 Field Notes, after the preliminaries, 17 May 2017.

4 Field Notes, after the preliminaries, 17 May 2017.

5 Field Notes, 12 May 2017.

6 Field Notes, after the preliminaries, 17 May 2017.

7 Field Discussion after the elections, 18 October 2017.

8 Interview with Ms. Mary Akinyi, Aspirant MCA, Mombasa, 12 March 2017.

9 Interview with Ms. Regina Chisenga, Aspirant for MP seat Kilifi North, 18 April 2017.

10 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 22 May 2017.

11 Interview with Ms. Grace Oloo, Aspirant, 12 March 2017.

12 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 14 May 2017.

13 Field discussions with women aspirants, 14 May 2017.

14 Field Discussion with MCAs, 12 March 2017.

15 Field Discussion with MCAs, 12 May 2017.

16 Field Discussions, 24 August 2017.

17 Field Discussions, 17 May 2017.

18 Interview with Ms. Mary Akinyi, incumbent, aspirant For MCA seat Airport Ward, 12 May 2017.

19 Interview with Ms. Regina Chishenga, Aspirant for MP seat Kilifi North, 18 April 2017.

20 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 14 May 2017.

21 Field discussion after elections, 21 August 2017.

22 Interview with Ms. Maryam, Zahur, Student Leader, Mombasa, 20 June 2017.

23 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 14 May 2017.

24 Interview with Ms. Regina Chisenge, aspirant for MP seat in Kilifi North, 14 April 2017.

25 Interview with Ms. Witness Tsuma, aspirant for women representative seat in Kilifi, 18 April 2017.

26 Discussion with Ms. Grace Oloo after the Preliminaries, 16 May 2017.

27 Field Observation, Campaign meeting 5 August 2017.

28 Field discussion, MCAs, Mombasa after nominations, 11 May 2017.

29 Field Discussion after the 2017 elections, 26 August 2017.

30 Field Discussion after the 2017 elections, 26 August 2017.

31 Interview with Ms. Witness Tsuma, aspirant for women representative, Kilifi County, 18 April 2017.

32 Interview with Ms. Regina Chisenge, 18 April 2017.

33 Interview with Ms. Grace Oloo, aspirant, 21 April 2017.

34 Interview with Ms. Mary Akinyi, incumbent and MCA aspirant, 12 March 2017.

35 Field Discussion Student Leaders, 14 August 2017.

36 Field discussion on Zulekha as she takes a strong position against her boss – the governor, 9 July 2017.

37 Field discussion with Ms. Hadija Salim, Community Mobilizer, Community Based Organization, Malindi, 13 June 2017.

38 Field discussion, 21 April 2017.

39 Field discussion, 11 May 2017.

40 Interview with Regina Chishenga, MP aspirant Kilifi North.

41 Statements made during the debate at the Kenya School of Government in Matuga, as reported in the Daily Nation (2017b)

42 Interview with Ms. Grace Oloo, Aspirant for MCA, Mombasa, 12 March 2017.

43 Interview with Ms. Witness Tsuma, Kilifi, 18 April 2017.

44 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 23 May 2017.

45 Interview with Ms. Regina Chishenga, Kilifi, 18 April 2017.

46 Discussion with Student Leader, Ms. Sauda Hamisi, 12 April, 2017.

47 Check original for this Endnote

48 Interview with Ms. Evalyne Odongo, Lawyer, 24 June 2017.

49 Interviews with Ms. Witness Tsuma and Ms. Virginia Chisenga, 18 April 2017.

50 Field Discussion after the elections, 14 October 2017.

51 Field notes, 9 July 2017.

52 Interview with Ms. Hadija Salim, Community Mobilizer, Kilifi, 24 August 2017.

53 Interview with Ms. Witness Tsuam, 18 April 2017.

54 Interview with Ms. Regina Chishenga, 18 April 2017.

55 Interview with Ms. Sauda Hamisi, Student Leader, 16 May 2017.

56 Interview with Ms. Mary Akinyi, 12 March 2017.

57 Interview with Dr. Damaris Monari, Lecturer, Mombasa, 14 May 2017.

58 Field discussion after elections, 24 August 2017.

Auteur

Is presently a lecturer at the Department of Social Sciences, Technical University of Mombasa.

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