Version classiqueVersion mobile

Where Women Are

Nanjala Nyabola
Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle

Exploring Feminine Political Leadership Attributes and Women’s Campaigns During the 2017 General Election in Kenya1

Maria Arnal Canudo et Fatuma Ahmed Ali


Despite the fact that women are almost half of the population of the world, they are under-represented in political leadership across the world. Only 20 % of parliamentarians were women in 2011 and only one country in the world has women-majority parliamentarians and that is Rwanda. This research analyzes and compares the gender component in terms of leadership style, performance and the characteristics desired among Kenyan youths. Twelve focus groups discussions (FGDs) were conducted in six different universities in Nairobi with undergraduate and graduate students as a method of collecting data for the study. In addition, a content analysis of media was undertaken as part of the research method. Among other findings of the study, participants of the FGDs concluded that women in Kenya are still treated differently in comparison to men especially in the political sphere despite the increase of women vying for political positions.

Texte intégral


  • 1 The participants’ quotes reflect their authentic voice and thus, are unedited.

1In Kenyan politics, leadership as concept is linked to attributes associated with masculinity because of the social, cultural, religious and patriarchal constructs creating a misleading narrative about women’s ability as political leaders. Therefore, what voters expect from leaders overlaps with masculine characteristics and not with supposedly feminine characteristics. Indeed, most women leaders are framed in masculine roles (Arnal, 2012). That is why, Sjoberg (2014) states, leadership becomes gender-specific rather than sex-specific. For example, if a woman leader makes a personal or collective decision, she is more likely to be questioned than a man because of her gender. In addition, some studies about female leaders have shown that women’s private lives receive more attention during their tenure in government and also during campaigns than men’s (Tickner, 2001).

2Several dimensions have emerged from research on women and politics in Africa. Much of the research has focused on the biographies of African women leaders, political participation of women in the continent and consequences of the inclusion of gender discrimination in the legislative scope of the countries. Little has been done on the leadership attributes of women leaders in Africa (Kamau, 2010; Mari Tripp et al, 2009); scanty research is available on feminine political leadership attributes in Kenya. Hence, there is a clear need to academically explore the feminine political leadership attributes and women’s campaigns during elections in Kenya.

3This chapter explores feminine political leadership attributes and women’s campaigns during the 2017 general election in Kenya. It also specifically analyses and compares the gender component in terms of leadership style, performance and the characteristics desired among Kenyan youth regarding Kenyan women leaders. The study examines the campaigns carried out by women during the 2017 general election in order to map out their leadership attributes and compare them with the attributes used to describe Kenyan women leaders. This chapter answers the following questions: What are the different attributes of women political leaders in Kenya and which ones are more desirable or suitable for women? How are those attributes different from men political leaders? Are those attributes reflected in women’s campaigns during the electoral period in Kenya? What are the different features of women’s campaign compared with men’s campaign?

4Due to a range of disciplinary perspectives from which leadership has been studied, there are many existing research methodologies on this topic. In addition to a broad approach, interdisciplinary approaches have also been employed. To explore the feminine political leadership attributes and women’s campaigns during the 2017 general election in Kenya, a qualitative research methodology has been employed. This method is particularly useful and suitable for analysing processes, and why things work the way they do, or why they do not. In summary, a qualitative research method aims pre-eminently at clarification, interpretation and, to a certain degree, explanation of the phenomenon being examined (Tymstra and Heyink, 1993: 293). The study also uses an exploratory research method to obtain and analyse secondary data, in order to gain a better understanding of different dimensions of the problem especially in subject area where either no information or little information is available.

5This research used both primary and secondary data collection methods. Secondary data was primarily acquired from scholarly publications on the concept of leadership, women’s leadership, women´s political leadership, women and politics in Africa. The primary data was obtained through Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with participants from six universities based in Nairobi. The participants were both undergraduate and graduate students between the ages of 18 and 30 years old who were selected using a random and snowball sampling method within their institutions. The purpose of this approach was to encourage conversation and discussions in order to generate an understanding of Kenyan youth opinions regarding feminine political leadership attributes and women’s campaigns during the 2017 general election. FDGs were also used to gain more insight into the current Kenyan situation regarding women and political leadership.

6Twelve FGDs were conducted: two focus group discussions per university, which brought it to a total between 72, and 120 youth who were interviewed. The focus group discussions were organised and conducted during the three electoral stages that is, some were done during the primaries or nomination of candidates to get the opinion of the students on the kind of political leadership attributes women demonstrated. The second FGDs took place during the campaign period to understand how women campaigned and which attributes did they employ. Eventually the third FGD was conducted one week after the elections held on 8 August 2017, to discuss the various attributes used by women aspirants and their outcomes. The discussions were audio recorded and then transcribed. The transcriptions of the audio-recorded interviews were analysed thematically based on the research objectives and questions.

7Based on the number of universities located in Nairobi, the study combined both private and public universities as the site for data collection. The following universities were selected during the process of sampling; United States International University- Africa (USIU-Africa), Daystar University, Pan African University (PAC), University of Nairobi (UON), Kenyatta University (KU) and Technical University of Kenya (TUK).

8In academic research, ethical issues are of utmost importance and have direct bearing on the overall integrity and protection of the participants. Therefore, all participants were provided with a consent form detailing and disclosing all the relevant information pertaining to the research. A disclosure of what the research will be used for and how the information will be handled was shared. Prior to the activity, the participants were informed about the nature of the study, the expectations related to their participation, the voluntary nature of their participation, including their rights to either decline to participate or withdraw at any stage if they felt uncomfortable and wished to discontinue participation. As part of the confidentiality agreement, it was decided that the names and identities of the respondents would not be revealed in order to safeguard their privacy. At the end of each FGD, the participants were given a debriefing form in case they had any concerns regarding the questions presented to them during the discussion or they may want to seek counselling for support. However, no participant experienced any risk of emotional and physical discomfort. Furthermore, one of the limitation of the research was that it only used the opinion of University students and the public opinion of non-university students/youth and women were not included due to logistics issues and the politically tense ambiance during the electoral period.

9This chapter is divided into four parts. The first part is the introduction above. The second part provides a theoretical review to understand the concept of leadership, to contextualise the situation of women in political leadership in Kenya in order to be able to explore the feminine political leadership attributes and women’s campaigns during the 2017 general election. The third part illustrates the findings of the research thematically based on the analysis of the research objectives and questions from the focus group discussions with university students who participated in the process of primary data collection. The fourth part is the conclusion.

Understanding the Concept of Leadership: Women’s Leadership and Women in Political Leadership in Kenya

A leader is a person who knows the way, who has been through the way and can lead the way. A participant’s definition of a leader.

10Political leadership is difficult to define due to the number of issues involved, including psychology, maturity of the society or the biography of a leader. To understand it better, political leadership has been approached from several perspectives and fields such as political theory, psychology, history, public administration, anthropology or sociology (Rhodes and Hart, 2014). Each of these mentioned perspectives and fields focuses on different techniques and methodologies to study leadership, but all of them have the common denominator of analysing leaders to understand the causes and consequences of their behaviours.

11Leadership has existed since human beings developed their first societies, and the concept of leadership is linked with the type of society and context where it is applied. For example, business leadership is different from political leadership (Keohane 2005). Furthermore, leadership is a cross-cutting concept that is suitable for a wide range of fields such as politics, business, social groups or international relations.

12Burns (1976), differentiates between transformational leadership and transactional leadership. A transformational leader engages followers in a project in order to create a mutual process of raising one another. In contrast, a transactional leader creates a structure where the followers are motivated by reward and punishment. For some authors such as Rotberg (2012) or Bolden and Kirk (2009), transformative leaders have a determining role in creating new political culture and building institutions in some countries. Other authors such as Kuada (2010) argue that transformational leadership does not match with some aspects of African cultures and certain African leaders might exhibit autocratic attitudes towards their followers rather than motivate them.

13According to Hyden (2006), African leadership is more linked to the community than with individualism. This means that there are some private and cultural patterns that are transferable into the governmental institutions. However, in contrast, Kamau (2010) asserts that the definition of political leadership in Kenya and in many other developing countries in Africa covers issues such as ethics, values or certain expectations from the leaders that include: development of the home community, financial assistance to certain groups, policy formulation and inclusion of constituency issues into legislation and institutions.

14Despite the different approaches to leadership and its process, the relationship with followers is vital to build the leadership style and get the support of citizens. In this relationship the character of the leader is essential. Meanwhile, the personality of the leader has been approached mainly from two different perspectives: the personality itself (Lasswell, 1963; Barber, 1977; Verba, 1968) and the perception of the leader by the followers (Gardner and Laskin, 1995; Neustadt, 1991; Renshon, 1996). For instance, Barber (1977) establishes four types of personalities, which are active-positive, active-negative, passive-positive and passive-negative in order to predict the performance of the politician according to their character. On the other hand, Neustadt (1991) makes a distinction between the character and the perception of the leader and ensures that the performance is limited by the perception of the leader. Based on the citizens’ opinion about the leader, they support the leader more or less. This perception is shaped not only by the depiction of the leader in the media, but also by social and cultural norms.

15Feminist scholars have established two approaches of understanding women’s leadership (Mari Tripp et al., 2009; Sjoberg, 2014). The first one is the idea of a good leadership from a gender perspective and the second one is the women stereotypes in theories of leadership, which is the most common. Women are underrepresented in politics, but also femininity since when women hold a public position it is either they are treated differently from men or dismissed in leadership discussions (Sjoberg, 2014).

Women leaders feel compelled to cultivate a style that conveys strength in traditional male terms, or women who mimic men prove more likely to succeed as national political leaders, in either case responsibility for their reputation rests with the women leaders (Genovese, 1993: 225).

16The definition ofa good leader is therefore often connected with masculine attributes or what we consider as being a good man while being a good woman is not alligned with being a good leader (Sjoberg, 2014). Thus, many women who hold political or public positions are more prone to play masculine roles than feminine. Women are marginalized twice, because they are women and secondly for being politicians (Kasomo, 2012). Moreover, this issue provokes a biased depiction of women in media in which they are judged by attributes such as beauty, private life or academic background.

17Women have been marginalised from public life and decision-making in most cultures and societies across the history (Moghadam and Haghighatjoo, 2016). Despite the fact that women are almost half of the population of the world, they are under-represented in political leadership across the world; only 23 % of parliamentarians are women in 2018 and there are a few countries in the world that have women-majority parliamentarians such as Rwanda (61.3 %), Cuba (53.2 %) and Bolivia (53.1 %) (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2018). Since the 90’s women have mobilised in Africa to include their rights in either constitutional laws or norms. As a result, currently 21 out of 46 African countries have constitutions that protect women’s representation, for example all countries in East Africa have gender quotas in their constitutions.

18To this end, gender plays a role in the definition of leadership and its attributes. Guzmán Cuevas and Rodríguez Gutiérrez (2008) argue that women have different attributes from men. Women usually tend to support a more transformational leadership style – based on democratic decision-making process and interpersonal relationship – rather than transactional style – based on hierarchical structures. Moreover, based on the research conducted by Alexander and Andersen (1993: 536) in the United States, women are seen by voters as “more compassionate, moral, hardworking, and liberal” and faced more challenges to move forward since they have to deal with their job task and family responsibilities. However, according to these authors male voters perceive men as tough, crisis managers, emotionally stable and decision-makers.

19Patriarchal culture also contributes to defining women’s political attributes because it is presumed that only men make good leaders because of their character (perceived as strong, focused, assertive and dominant) vis-a-vis women’s perceived non-leadership characteristics (emotional, careful, timid, etc.). These factors have played a big role in determining the expectations of political leadership that the electorate/ citizenry place on their chosen leaders (Kamau, 2010: 25-26).

20At the same time, the personality of the leader depends on their background experiences, and their lives. Studies have shown that women who eventually participate in politics build their leadership styles according to their experiences and personal challenges such as family issues, or a lack of resources and gender discrimination within political parties (Kamau, 2010). Moreover, Okumu (2008) points out that in Africa, a man could feel threatened by a woman politician because it is perceived as his domain. Men’s reaction to this perceived intrusion is using violence against women in order to discourage them from participating in politics (Okumu, 2008).

21In many societies the role of women is limited to the family and household maintenance. It therefore becomes more difficult for women compared to men to join politics which in turn feeds into a negative attitude towards women leaders. Yet, African women have historically played important roles in economic, social and religious spheres. Women have been peace builders, mediators in conflicts, and resource managers (Ahmed Ali, 2015). They have also played an important role during the last years of colonization as fighters and supporters (Peterson, 2001). Indeed, Moghadam and Haghighatjoo (2016) argue that the inclusion of women in decision making and leadership positions brings different values to the table and increases awareness of women’s concerns, ensuring the development of networks among women to enable them to take part in the public life and access power. Accordingly, Wittmer and Bouché (2013) point out that women’s inclusion in the legislature raises the number of laws introduced pertaining to women’s rights. However, other studies show that women inclusion in politics in Kenya does not benefit women’s concerns (Lawless and Fox, 1999).

22A woman’s political career cannot be neutral since some political issues do not only rest on gender balance but also on other factors such as class, status, ethnicity or religion. Yet, in certain societies these factors are used as the tools to restrict women’s political career development. For example in Kenya, married women living in cities for long periods face difficulties in being accepted as leaders in both their home constituency and in her husband’s constituency since they belong to the husband’s home after marriage. Women therefore need to develop a political career without the community support – a major disadvantage. Moreover, in many parts of the country, the role of women in politics in Kenya has depended upon elders of the community (Mathangani, 1995).

23Even though many countries have introduced norms and legal reforms to protect women and empower them to participate in politics, challenges such as poverty, lack of education, cultural barriers or unequal access to services thwart the full inclusion of women in public life. Women also suffer from family pressure, threats of death and sexual violence and assassination which are also extended to their families and friends. As a consequence, their political leadership attributes are stereotypically distorted by their experience and their role is seen as passive.

24The inclusion of women in the public sphere has an impact on the economy of the country and on individual’s economic behaviour. According to Akerlof and Kranton (2000), allowing women to take part in public life affects the economic outcomes in areas such as political economy, organizational behaviour or demography. In addition, some studies show that inclusion of clauses for women in constitutions have had a positive effect for women rights in several countries in Africa. These rules allow women to take part in the public life and display their leadership styles in the positions they hold. In addition, the more women run for public positions, the more common this phenomenon becomes in the society in order to modify certain culture patterns. It can be argued that sometimes the law plays a role in enforcing certain social behaviour and developing societies.

Thus, the most significant changes in Africa with respect to women’s rights have occurred when there are opportunities to rewrite “the rules” of the political order, which generally occurred after major civil conflict” (Mari Tripp et al, 2009: 6).

25For example, Rwanda and Mozambique have some of the highest rates of female legislative representation due to their commitments in legislation.

26Since Kenya attained independence in 1963, only around 50 women have been elected for a seat at the parliament. In 2010 the Parliament had only 10 % of women representation, far from the global female representation figure of 18.8 %. The few examples of women in political leadership in Kenya have displayed their leadership styles through masculine attributes or what have been considered masculine roles and most of the women have built their leadership style based on their life experience and the challenges they faced before becoming a politician.

27In Kenya the implementation and operationalization of legislation on gender parity is a challenge. For instance, Article 81 b) of the Kenyan Constitution on the general principles of the electoral system states that: “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” This means that women should occupy at least one third of the elective bodies in Kenya. Historical prejudices and stereotypes have ensured that a bill that would enshrine the law has twice failed to get the numbers in a male-dominated House. Sadly, the 2013 Parliament has struggled to give life to the requirements of this rule and the failure further demonstrates the complexities of negotiating and upholding democratic principles, people’s wishes and constitutional imperatives (Akala, 2017).

28Although the law establishes the number of women’s representation for public bodies, it was expected that this number would increase in this 2017 election. Unfortunately, women’s representation in the Lower House in Kenya falls behind the sub-Saharan average of 23.1 %, even though it has risen in the last decades since the 1998 (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2017). At that time, women were elected to 8 seats to 68 seats in 2013 and to 75 seats (3 Governors, 3 Senators, 47 Women Representatives and 23 Members of Parliament) in the 2017 general elections. Women represented around 60 % of the electorate in the 2017 elections and the number of female candidates running for seats was higher than in previous elections.

29In addition to the law, education plays a key factor in women’s political representation in Kenya. According to Awuor (2013), women with stronger academic qualifications attain higher political positions. Furthermore, once they hold a position, they are “very active in sensitizing the other women to ensure their effective participation in political parties” (Awuor, 2013: 65). Akala (2017) claims that having more women in leadership positions will also motivate young girls to strive for leadership positions when they grow up. This is based on the premise that the younger generation will grow confident that society is fair and does not impose limitations on the basis of gender.


30The research findings of this study are based on the analysis of the focus group discussions that were conducted during the primaries, campaigns and post-election period. The findings are organised thematically. These themes were extracted from the discussions with the focus group participants, research objectives and questions.

Leadership attributes

31Most of the participants agreed with the leadership attributes that any politician, either, women or men should possess. These attributes can be divided into two main categories: attributes regarding the personality of the leader, and attributes about the relationship of the leader with his/ her followers. Attributes related to the personality of the leader include: integrity, honesty and vision, including being knowledgeable, proactive, charismatic and educated. Integrity was the most preferred attribute. However, its definition differed from one respondent to another. Some of them linked integrity with the rule of law while others defined it as the coherence between the private and public life of the leader:

In Kenya integrity is part of the constitution, a leader has to have integrity according to Chapter 6 [of the Kenyan constitution] but the applicability of that chapter is more of a mirage. That is what we are facing today; all leaders are facing integrity concerns.


They need to be consistent with their lives let’s say their private life they need to put it to the public because most of the politicians live two lives so sometimes the citizens would judge them on the life out there in public because they are different people out in public who all relate to them. They need to maintain that consistency because that consistency will bring trust and accountability.

33On the attributes linked with the relationship of the leader with the followers, the participants noted that the most important attributes were empathy for the people and interest in the problems of voters they represent including commitment to their work and constituencies. In addition to these attributes, a few of the respondents added aggressiveness as an imperative attribute in Kenyan politics. However, they compared it with wealth in order to justify why some people in Kenya are not running for a public position:

Aggressiveness should be your action which is what you are doing and should depict what you are saying. We have good leaders who are not joining politics because they are not able to compare themselves with those who have money. There are those who want to be [a] leader but they think they do not have the resources such as money to buy people which is bad for leadership.

34There were several responses that were received from the participants on the attributes of leadership such as: consultative, articulate, original, presentable, respectable, persuasive, effective, efficient, and honest, a good listener, positive, tolerant, motivated, action-oriented, responsible, understandable, transparent, appealing, accountable, selfless, humble, tactful, progressive, assertive and patriotic. While some of the participants argued that there should be a clear distinction between a good leader and the issue of integrity, other respondents emphasised that these attributes should cut across both men and women.

Women’s leadership attributes

35On women’s leadership attributes, the participants were divided among those who thought that women and men have the same attributes and those who do not. Some of the participants believed that both women and men should have the same leadership attributes since they hold a similar position in the public sphere:

If you are a leader it doesn’t matter if it is from the physical or political angle, there is a need for these attributes and qualities we are talking about. As much as we would want to look at roles and what one can do, I think in terms of attributes there should be a standard for as long as someone is a leader.

36Meanwhile, the other respondents argued that gender implies a difference in the leadership style since men and women have different attributes as human beings:

We [women] are more of emotional beings than men you find that at times we make decisions out of emotions but not really out of our intellect. I guess we women find it difficult to balance both.

37Participants frequently discussed emotions as a feature of women’s attributes in support of the idea that women have different attributes from men. One male respondent stated that women are very emotional and are unable to handle security matters appropriately. Another respondent disagreed with him, stating that handling of security matters depended on the personality of the individual. It was argued that some women do not reveal their emotions in leadership because they react to issues differently. Therefore, the assertion that women are very emotional cannot be generalised. Some participants concluded that some women’s emotional state is determined by their upbringing and social influences.

38Discussions also centred on the societal stereotypes and prejudice around the displaying of emotions. An example was cited of the Deputy President Mr. William Ruto who cried in public and demonstrated the agony he experienced during the 2013 general election. This reveals the context of stereotypes on displaying emotions in public as socially constructed. That is, when a man cries, it is considered empathy, while if a woman cries, it is seen as weakness and being emotional. Hence, the idea that women will find it difficult to hold a security portfolio or position due to their emotional tendency does not hold water, as several examples globally discredit that claim. It is important to note that there are institutional procedures and processes for decision-making, which do not necessarily depend on the personality of an individual. For instance, Defence Ministers receive regular security briefings, thus, decisions are reached through a group-think process comprising of relevant security chiefs.

39On the other hand, participants who viewed women and men having different attributes, outlined qualities such as determination, perseverance, aggressiveness, persuasion, responsiveness, confidence, moderation, modesty, integrity or assertiveness as desirable features for women leaders. Most of these attributes are associated with masculinity and not feminity, and women have to “work harder” than men during campaigns to portray themselves as authoritative and strong leaders if they want to achieve their goals in politics. Women have to work harder because they do not have the same privileges, opportunities, and resources as men:

I think for women, one of the issues they face is that of integrity. Once you are a woman in leadership you are scrutinised more than any other person, they will look at your family, yet, for a man they will not look at his family or background. They will scrutinise you to the core so I think women need to have more integrity because they are women.


An independent woman is a threat. So women grow up being known as the helpers and women are not supposed to overtake the men, they should stay behind and watch. Being an independent and strong woman, is viewed as being too masculine and that is unacceptable.

41During the post-election focus group discussion, participants agreed that most of the women who succeeded in the elections were charismatic or assertive in telling their mostly male competitors that they are ready to bring change. For instance, the current Nairobi women’s representative Esther Passaris was cited as a good example of a leader who used her charisma to promote and brand herself as Mama Taa (Mother of lights) and this was because of her ‘Adopt a Light’ project. There were also other women who were assertive enough because they wanted to be elected in the 2017 general election rather than being nominated. Another attribute that women who won the election demonstrated was resilience because they have been through a lot of political setbacks but they were confident and assertive to win. Joyce Laboso of Bomet county, Charity Ngilu of Kitui county and Anne Waiguru of Kirinyaga county defeated male incumbents in part because they were resilient. Additionally, women contestants strategically aligned themselves with powerful figures who endorsed their political ambitions before the elections, enabling their victory at the polls. Some women also deliberately positioned themselves as ‘mother figures’ in order to appeal to the youth vote.

42Women made a lot of strategy changes between 2013 and 2017. In the previous elections, women were under-estimated but during the 2017 general elections women contestants paid attention to details, including public communication and persuading and convincing voters. They also demonstrated improved communication skills because they were able to persuade and convince their constituents. Branding was used to differentiate between the attributes of the different women contesting for the same position. For example, in the Kirinyaga gubernatorial race of Kirinyaga where two women (Anne Waiguru and Martha Karua) contested against each other, they developed slogans such as Minji (fresh garden peas in Kiswahili) based on a pejorative term Minji Minji which Waigiru was given because she is fair skinned and new to the political arena. Its origins are sexist but it played well with young male voters. Waiguru embraced it but Karua tried to reclaim this through the Ndengu ( “Lentils” in Kiswahili) moniker associated with her toughness and experience in politics. There are of course layers to this and is worth further exploring this dichotomy, for instance women who embraced the sexist labels and those who rebelled against them. Moreover, this paractice was more predominant between women candidates competing against each other for the same position.

43Women also demonstrated a great deal of determination and aspiration in their leadership campaigns. For instance, Sophia Abdi Noor won the Ijara Parliamentarian seat, becoming the first Somali woman to win a non-quota election in Kenya. Inspired by the precedent of women in previous leadership positions (Ministers, legislatures etc.) women reached out to the masses in their political campaigns. There was an interesting mix of aggressiveness and gentleness leading some of them being classified as either soft or aggressive. Therefore, most of the participants agreed that women were able to demystify the myth that only men can contest or do politics, especially in Bomet County where there was a fierce race for the gubernatorial seat.

Kenyan Women Political Leaders

44During the focus group discussions, Kenyan women political leaders were classified mainly as: flower girls (those women who just clap and follow their party leaders as cheerleaders), activists (those who advocate for certain issues/rights), pseudo-masculinist (women who are apparently masculine in certain aspects) philanthropic (those who are charitable and promote the welfare of others), professional, charismatic, aggressive, loyal, modest, simple and conservative. These classifications are based on women’s roles and personality in politics. Often the media constructed these typologies of Kenyan women leaders. Moreover, most of the participants argued that, it has not been an easy journey for women leaders in their quest for seeking political leadership in Kenya because they have experienced several challenges. These include the cultural belief that leadership is traditionally associated with men, balancing their private and public life, fierce competition for political leadership by men; the idea that women should be confined to private/domestic leadership, lack of financial power and access to resources.

45Some of the participants claimed that women leaders in search of political power often showcase their physical features instead of the articulated agenda to persuade their electorates. They also believed that the physical attributes of a woman and her social constructs play a vital role in being elected. Participants argued that women have been unable to articulate their agenda and aspirations as leaders, and perceived requirements for men in leadership are therefore different from those of women. Hence, it is assumed that women are incapable of holding serious positions of leadership in Kenya, for instance the role of president.

46The participants knew quite a number of women political leaders and almost all of them agreed that there were more women vying for seats in the 2017 general election than in previous elections. However, despite general support for women in terms of their participation in public life, participants held that culture must be developed in order to successfully incorporate them as leaders in their own right.

Media Depiction and Evaluation of Women Leaders

47Although some participants believe that women and men have the same leadership attributes, most of them agreed that the media depiction and the evaluation of leaders by citizens are influenced by gender. They recognised that women and men are not judged equally in terms of their performance or background. For instance, issues such as personal life (status), beauty or character are used to criticize or praise women leaders, while their male counterparts are evaluated based on their performance in terms of delivering their promises:

It is so sad because when you talk about women in leadership it is associated with how good you are at managing your home as a woman. If you are able to keep your husband or whether you are married and if you cannot keep a husband then you cannot be a leader.

48Moreover, participants asserted that women would be evaluated according to their personal life in case she vies for a public position:

When a woman goes to the podium the things they would see is [if] she has been divorced twice, she has three husbands and not anything relevant.

49Most of all, the participants in the study claim that due to stereotypes, novice women politicians take advantage of their feminine attributes in order to get votes or achieve better positions:

This has now affected our generation in politics where women now associate themselves with their physical attributes to appeal the masses with slogans like “msupa na works” (a pretty girl who works).


Women leaders have to blame themselves for the names they chose to use for their campaigns to be referred to as like “bae wa Nairobi” (meaning: the girlfriend of Nairobi). The female leaders define themselves using their feminine attributes hoping to get votes. They need to change how they campaign for themselves first for voters to view them for their leadership attributes and not their physical attributes.


51The findings reveal that women in Kenya are still treated differently in comparison to men especially in the political sphere. Thus, some women vying for political positions present masculine attributes in order to be as visible and audible as their male counterparts. This masculinization of women leadership has a negative impact on women since they have to portray themselves in an inauthentic manner. Moreover, masculinization of women’s leadership slows the change in mentality within the society where women leaders are depicted not as their authentic selves but as society constructs them. As such, feminine attributes remain negative qualities in comparison to masculine qualities.

52Even though the past few years have seen a great improvement for women and political leadership in Kenya, there is still a lot to be done. In these focus groups, opinions were divided in regards to women’s leadership attributes. Mainly, respondents pointed out during the discussions that it is essential to educate the society to change the mind-set of both, women and men. Some respondents also argued that often, women did not trust women politicians because of gender issues such as beauty or clothing. Part of the group argued that women have different leadership attributes than men while others thought the opposite. Yet most of them believed in equal opportunities for both men and women in politics, even though they realised that this was still a utopian ideal in Kenya.

53The findings of this chapter suggest that the ideal women’s leadership attributes are not the same as real women’s leadership attributes. For example, previously leadership attributes were based on aggression and competency while currently women tend to showcase beauty and the ability that is domestic value-skills which appeals to men. The media also portrays women’s leadership attributes using their beauty or personal life. This practice of feminizing women’s leadership attributes and subsequently constructing the idea of a model of beauty as highlighted in the extract below:

Actually a few weeks ago there was an interview on Jeff Koinange Live on Citizen’s Television and they had Chris Kirubi and Orie Rogo Manduli and there was a question asked about the Nairobi women’s representative competition between Rachel Shebesh and Esther Passaris who will win? This is what Chris Kirubi said: “That both women are beautiful so they both stand a chance.” I think in the African context people rarely look at what the candidates have done. I for one I only nominated a female MCA because there were so many male representatives. Even if she did not qualify I only thought it is fair to give her my vote because she was a woman.

54For women in leadership, there is a struggle to maintain feminine identity in a dominant masculine world. In this regard, there are two competing stereotypes of women leaders, either as conservative or as radical. Moreover in the context of community expectations of perfect families, women in leadership therefore experience challenges if they are single, widowed or divorced. In addition, women also face resistance if they portray themselves sexually and display interest in beauty and fashion. This goes against the perceptions of the community with preconceptions that women must be considered decent, yet feminine.

55Women are also disadvantaged in asserting political power in the parliament, even though they are elected, due to lack of funding. For example, women helplessly watched as the male parliamentarians passed a bill that granted men the right to marry many wives – which has been illegal in Kenya since independence notwithstanding some cultural exemptions. Women in the legislature also tended to show more affinity to men than to women voters. This strategy disconnects them from their core constituency. In some instances, women are voted into power on the basis of leadership dynasty, family, spousal name, ethnic and social affiliations and not based on merit but political patronage.

56Another relevant finding for this study is the nexus between culture and women in electoral politics. Only one group claimed that African culture must be considered in the inclusion of women in political leadership. However, the group also said that there should be a balance between the African and Western cultures when empowering women politically. Besides the fact that the majority of the participants did not mention or refer to culture in their answers, shows the universalization of gender problems beyond Kenya and the agreement that certain issues do not belong to culture but to human rights. Therefore, a future area of study could be to examine the impact of culture on women in electoral politics in Kenya.

57In conclusion, the emergence of women in leadership coincides with the demand for change by the people of Kenya. That is why changes have culminated in the election of three women as Governors, three women Senators, forty seven women representatives and twenty three women Members of Parliament. This hints at a change of attitude towards women that is expected to continue to increase in subsequent elections in the future, bringing hope and inspiration for women to seek more political offices in Kenya.



Ahmed Ali F. 2015. Mujeres y Guerras: Deconstruyendo la noción de víctimas y reconstruyendo su papel de constructoras de la paz, Castellón, de la Plana, Universitat Jaume I.

Ahmed Ali F. 2010. War and Armed Conflict: Threat to African Women’s Human Security. In Gender Imperative: Human Security vs. State Security. Edited by Betty A. Reardon and Asha Hans, New Delhi: Routledge, 110–37.

Akala B. May 21, 2017. Election season offers a reminder that Kenya remains deeply sexist, The Conversation, (Retrived August 19, 2017).

Akerlof G.A. & Kranton R.E. 2000. Economics and Identity. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. CXV (3), 715-753.

Alexander D. & Andersen K. 1993. Gender as a Factor in the Attribution of Leadership Traits, Political Research Quarterly, 527-545.

Arnal Canudo M. 2012. Iron Lady, reflexiones sobre la imagen y el liderazgo, Fotocinema, vol. 4, 68-87.

Awuor P. 2013. Gender mainstreaming and women empowerment in political party processes in Kenya: Implementing the new Constitution in Earnest, International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, vol. 3 (3), 62-71.

Barber J.A. 1977. The Presidential Character. Predicting Performance in the White House, Washington, Library of Congress.

Bolden R. & Kirk P. 2009. African leadership. Surfancing new understandings through leadership development, International Journal of Cross Cultural Management vol. 9 (1) 69-86.

Burns J.M. 1979. Leadership, New York, Harper & Row.

Gardner H. & Laskin E. 1995. Leading minds: an anatomy of the leadership, New York, Basic Books.

Genovese M.A. (ed.) 1993. Women as National leaders, California, SAGE Publications.

Guzmán Cuevas J. & Rodríguez Gutiérrez M. J., 2008 Comportamiento de las mujeres empresarias: una visión global, Revista de Economía Mundial, vol. 18, 381-392.

Hyden G. 2006. African politics in comparative perspective, New York, Cambridge University Press.

Inter-Parliamentary Union 2018. Women in National Parliament,, (Retrived April 14, 2018).

Inter-Parliamentary Union 2017. Women in National Parliament. (Retrieved August 19, 2017).

Kamau N. 2010. Women political leadership in Kenya. Ten case studies, Nairobi, Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Kasomo D. 2012. Factors Affecting Women Participation in Electoral Politics in Africa, International Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 2 (3), 57-63.

Keohane N.O. 2005. On Leadership, Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 3 (4), 705-722.

Kuada J. 2010. Culture and leadership in Africa: a conceptual model and research agenda, African Journal of Economic and Management Studies, vol. 1 (1), 9-24.

Lasswell D.H. 1963. Psychopathology and Politics, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Lawless J. & Fox R. 1999. Women Candidates in Kenya: Political Socialization and Representation, Women & Politics, Vol. 20 (4), 49-76.

Mathangani M. 1995. The triple battle: gender, class and democracy in Kenya, Howard Law Journal, Vol. 39 (1), 287-335.

Mari Tripp A., Casimiro I., Kwesiga J. and Mungwa A. 2009. African women’s movements. Transforming political landscapes, New York, Cambridge University Press.

Moghadam V.M. & Haghighatjoo F. 2016. Women and Political Leadership in an Authoritarian Context: A Case Study of the Sixth Parliament in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Politics & Gender, vol. 12, 168–197.

Neustadt E.R. 1991. Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan, Washington, Library of Congress.

Okumu D. 2008. (Re) Configuring Gender-Based Violence as ‘Political Rape, in N. Kamau, Perspectives on Gender Discourse: Enhancing Women’s Political Participation, Nairobi, Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Peterson D. 2001. Wordy women: gender trouble and the oral politics of the East African revival in Northern Gikuyuland, Journal of African History, vol. 42, 469-489.

Renshon A.S. 1996. Psychological Assessment of presidential Candidates, New York, New York University Press.

Rhodes R.A.W & Hart P. (eds.) 2014. The Oxford handbook of political leadership, New York, Oxford University Press.

Rotberg R. 2012. Transformative political leadership: making a difference in the developing world, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

Sjoberg L. 2009. Feminism and Styles of Political leadership in J. Mascuiulli, M. A., Mochanov and W.A. Knight (eds), The Ashgate Research Companion to Political Leadership, Aldershot, Ashgate, 179-76.

Sjoberg L. 2014. Feminism, at Rhodes R.A.W and Hart P. (eds.) The Oxford handbook of political leadership, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 72-85

Tickner J.A. 2001. Gendering World Politics. New York, Columbia University Press.

Tymstra T.J. & Heyink J.W. 1993. The Function of Qualitative Research. Social Indicators Researchvol. 29 (3), 291-305.

Verba S. 1968. Small Groups and Political Behavior: AStudy of Leadership, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.

Wittmer D.E. & Bouché V. 2013. The Limits of Gendered Leadership: Policy Implications of Female Leadership on Women’s Issues, Politics & Gender, vol. 9, 245–275.


1 The participants’ quotes reflect their authentic voice and thus, are unedited.


Is Assistant Professor in Journalism and Communication at USIU-Africa. She holds a PhD in Political Leadership and her research focuses on leadership, communications and digital communications.

Is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the United States International University—Africa (USIU-A). Her research interests include issues related to gender, peace, conflict, sexual and gender-based violence, Islamic feminism and violent extremism.

© Africae, 2018

Licence OpenEdition Books

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search