Excitement as more women show interest in elective politics

Ms Janet Ong'era speaking in a past event. PHOTO/Courtesy.

She started as a nominated Senator, vied and became Women Representative and may now battle it out to become the Governor of Kisii.

Ms Janet Ong’era, a lawyer, hinted recently that she will throw herself in the race to succeed the county’s pioneer governor, James Ongwae, who is serving his second and last term.

Ms Ong’era becomes the second woman after Rachel Otundo, a former Nyaribari Chache parliamentary aspirant to declare interest in the governorship seat.

Should the two women make good their talk, they will be in the same political ring with about ten men who are eyeing the gubernatorial seat.

However, Ms Ong’era, who formerly served at the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) headquarters, may have to first battle for the coveted party ticket with Kisii Senator Prof Sam Ongeri and Dagoretti MP Simba Arati.

The Gusii political scene is dominated by men, save for the Women Representative seat whose candidates must be women.

Records show that none of the eleven constituencies of Kisii and Nyamira has ever elected a woman to represent them in parliament.

Ms Rachael Otundo addresses the media in her office. PHOTO/Courtesy.

In the history of the country, only Ms Catherine Nyamato saw the inside of Parliament on behalf of Gusii women after former President Daniel Moi nominated her.

There are two women elected to the county assemblies of Kisii and Nyamira.

Ms Callen Atuya represents Bokeira Ward in Nyamira County. She defied all odds to beat 11 men in the 2017 General Election. Nyamira has 20 wards.

Ms Rosa Kemunto Orondo won the Majoge Basi Ward seat in Kisii County. Of the 45 elected MCAs in the assembly, she is the only woman.

Over time, women from Gusii have been shunning elective seats, a factor that has contributed to the lack of the two-third gender rule.

In May, there was a by-election in Bonchari constituency where Teresa Bitutu of United Democratic Alliance (UDA) performed fairly well.

Ms Bitutu came third with 6, 964 votes in an election that was won by Pavel Oimeke of ODM.

There were three female candidates in the race that attracted ten men.

Former Kisii Woman Rep Mary Sally Keraa (United Green Movement) got 161 votes while Ms Margaret Gesare Nyabuto (Maendeleo Chap Chap) garnered 132 votes.

Ms Bitutu said that even though she lost in the by-election, she will be vying for the seat again in 2022.

“The competition was very tough and the circumstances were very difficult but I will go for the seat again in 2022,” she said.

Ms Bitutu is the widow of former MP Oroo Oyioka who died early in the year.
“I am inspired that I will perform even better. I am urging more women to come out and seek elective seats,” she said.

Teresa Bitutu Oyioka during the Bonchari Constituency by-election. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Ms Bitutu’s near win has inspired more women from the region to vie for political seats.
She had been described by many as a rural woman, and her near victory left many surprised.
On her part, Ms Otundo says nothing stops women from the region from involving themselves in politics.
The Gusii Governance Watch secretary says that the two-third gender rule will only be achieved if the community supports women who come out to seek elective seats.
Ms Eveline Ogendo, a Counselling Psychologist says members of the Gusii community should embrace leadership by women like other communities in the country have done.

“Women have proven to offer good leadership when given the task,” she said.
Women leaders from the community faced various stereotypes mostly perpetuated by their male colleagues.

“The stereotypes are mostly reinforced by their female counterparts, which end up working against them,” Ms Ogendo says.

She said the region is yet to have a female elected MP because they are pulled down by misconceptions and false narratives normally advanced by their male opponents.

“As the 2022 elections beckons women from the community who are the majority need to stand up and support their own to assume leadership positions starting from Governorship, Members of Parliament and Members of County Assembly positions,” Ms Ogendo says.

Gusii Council of Elders’ Secretary General Mr Samuel Bosire says the few brave women who go all the way to the ballot often endure a toxic environment, often worsened by their fellow women.

Former Kisii Woman Rep. Mary Otara displaying a clearance certificate to run for the Bonchari MP seat in the recent by-election. PHOTO/Edwin Nyarangi, Standard.

“It is usually very hard for women vying political seats in Gusii (Kisii and Nyamira counties). The environment is made very difficult for them to an extent that most give up,” said Mr Bosire.

He however says that it is time for the community to embrace women leadership since they are honest, articulate and focus at success.

“We have seen other communities entrust top leadership positions to women. Why not Gusii? We have seen how Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu is already doing well in her leadership,” said Mr Bosire.

In the Bonchari scenario, Ms Bitutu got her share of difficulties after her two supporters died in a road accident and opponents made the issue a campaign tool to discredit her.

Young Women Democrats director Esnahs Nyaramba notes that Bonchari was the first constituency in Gusii to have many women aspirants vying.

“This shows that women are slowly coming out to vie. They are courageous enough and we wish them and promise our support,” Ms Nyaramba said.

“I am urging other women to come out and declare their interests early enough ahead of the 2022 General election.”

Challenges standing on the way against women include threats and intimidation, financial constraints and little coverage in the press.

In August, the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA) launched a campaign to enhance women participation in politics and governance issues at both national and county levels.

And in 2018, FIDA reported that more women won elective seats in the 2017 elections compared to previous ones.

Ms Esnahs Nyaramba, Young Women Democrats director. PHOTO/Courtesy.
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Mr. Araka is the pioneer reporter and editor at The Scholar. His satirical segment, The Idler's Corner is very popular with our readers. He is also a published novelist and biographer.


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