Magazine / Gender Matters
Sunday, 23 Apr 2017 15:01 EATekariuki@kenyafreepress.com
The Kilifi and Mombasa women representatives, Aisha Jumwa and Mishi Mboko, won the ODM nomination to vie for constituency seats, thrusting them to the verge of making history for their compatriots but also altering the map of women representation in the National Assembly.
Mishi emerged the winner in the race for the ODM ticket for the Likoni seat after bagging 5,935 votes against her rival Ali Domoko's 3,294 while Aisha defeated sitting Malindi MP Willy Mtengo by garnering 8,456 votes against Willy’s 3,758. Both MPs are immensely popular in their areas and would easily have won re-election against lightweight women aspirants. But they chose the harder fight and faced men in the constituency seats.
Carrying the ODM flag puts them on the cusp of winning in August, and they could join only one Muslim woman who has held a parliamentary seat in Kenya's history. Before the new constitution which provides for 47 county women representative positions, only one Muslim woman had won a constituency seat - Marere was Mwachai in Msambweni in 1997. Consistent with the low value society attached to women leadership at the time, she was appointed an assistant minister for culture and social services - a preserve for women.
Mishi Mboko, who studied a diploma in public relations at the University of Nairobi, says her vision is the empowerment of women and to uplift their lives. Aisha on her part is a graduate of JKUAT. After the last election, she moved from her Kakuyuni home to Malindi, where she built a new residence with a focus on this year's general elections in mind.
The third woman, Fatuma Ibrahim, is the women rep for Wajir County. She too is seeking the ODM nominations for the Tarbaj parliamentary seat which was hived off Wajir East constituency in the 2013 elections. As she has no opponents, she is expected to get a direct ticket.
Like her coastal compatriots, Fatuma is immensely popular in Wajir County and would easily achieve victory in her re-election bid. But she chose to fight among at least eight men who have declared their interest in the Tarbaj seat. Since being elected, she has campaigned for the empowerment of the girl child, eradication of female genital mutilation and healthcare development throughout Wajir.
Some of the projects she has initiated include free medical camps, providing medical needs and help to the deprived citizens of Wajir. In one major camp last year, she brought 19 doctors/specialists to the region who attended to over 600 patients with needs such as: cleft lip/palate; eyes and general surgeries.
Fatuma is also a member of the Orange Democratic Movement and, reflecting her political principles, she and Wajir South MP Abdullahi Diriye are the only ones among nine MPs (including the senator and a nominated senator) from the county who have rejected enticements to defect to the Jubilee Party. The MP enjoys good relationship with governor Ahmed Abdullahi and county executives.
What makes these leaders' adventures even more courageous is the fact that no other women representatives in Kenya have opted out of their comfort zones. Their election would increase the number of women MPs by three in addition to giving them more clout as leaders in their areas. Aisha in particular would be well position to vie for the Kilifi gubernatorial seat in 2022 when her ally Amason Kingi is expected to retire.
Whereas the entire female gender is marginalised in Kenya at both the national and local levels, Muslim women are extremely behind. This in part reflects global trends where women representation is lowest in Muslim countries. According to United Nations data from 2015, only six countries had no women representatives: Tonga, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Vanuatu, Qatar and Yemen. Of these, the last two are the only well recognised countries.
The creation of women representative positions carries hope about positive change. Women are guaranteed of seats, from where they can prove themselves for higher officer. In this regard, Aisha and Mishi are among the most vocal MPs of any gender in Kenya today. Being anti-government, both have been prosecuted on trumped up charges - and Mishi was just acquitted last month.
Mishi and Aisha are so active that nationally they are in the leagues of such other stalwarts as Dr Susan Musyoka of Machakos, Florence Mutua of Busia and Gladys Wanga of Homa Bay. One reason they have done well as politicians is that they have embraced secular politics, dealing with the hard questions of the day such as Jubilee corruption, challenges to devolution, corruption and ethnicity.
While Fatuma is not so vocal on the national stage, according to a journalist based in Wajir Town she is the most vibrant of the Somali women MPs, of whom there are about 10, including the three elected women representatives and nominated members.
As part of the ODM core, they have given a big national following and their primary identity is as champions of coastal people rather than members tackling women grievances. Unlike other women leaders whose role is to cheer up their male counterparts. “They are proving that with time, we might not even need affirmative,” said Hassan Kulundu, a media and law expert who works for the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance.
What has made these women effective is their progressive politics and good use of information and communication technologies to advance their activism. In 2015, a video in which Aisha castigated the Jubilee government as being repressive, corrupt and anti-women went viral, watched by over 200,000 Kenyans on YouTube.
With their political successes, these women are already inspiring millions of others from the Coast and Northeastern which are Kenya's most marginalised regions. By their sheer bravery, they will propel the advancement of women, Muslim and non-Muslim, in a way that no legislation can. For Muslim women, the lesson will be that they don't have to depend on nominations by political parties or restrict themselves to the safe women seats.
The Muslim womenfolk have had many pioneers. For example, in the Judiciary, they now sit in the Court of Appeal and High Court, a long journey from ten 10 years when Abida Ali Aroni became the first Kenyan Muslim woman to be appointed as a High Court judge. But these women's role is even more catalytic because they didn't have to depend on appointments.
John Onyando contributed reporting for this article