It was a chilly morning in Mombasa County, the sun was just rising. The warm ocean breeze caressed the senses as an enchanting sight of a rainy night unfolded. This was a comforting embrace.
My phone kept ringing. It was Dennis Mwangi, Fatma Bakari’s Communications assistant. My appointment was guaranteed, in 10 Minutes I was to meet her in her car for an inciteful interview.
She joyfully welcomed me and immediately embarked on talks regarding women in politics and the programmes they do to inspire communities around them.
She opened up about an extraordinary wave of change sweeping across communities in Kenya, fueled by the transformative leadership of women in politics. These trailblazers are igniting hope and inspiring the younger generation to create barriers and create a brighter future.
Fatma Bakari Barayan vied for the Women’s Representative seat in Mombasa County in the 2022 August election using the UDA ticket. She, however, lost it to Zamzam Mohammed of the Orange Democratic Movement Party. President William Ruto appointed her as the Non-Executive Chairperson of the Youth Development Enterprise Fund, for 3 years.
She, on the other hand, is an advocate of the high court and is the founder of Barayan and Associates law firm in Mombasa. She provides legal services and fights for the rights of the community by representing them in court.
She cited that women’s engagement in politics boosts leadership and governance skills. She, therefore, encourages women to come on board and vie.
She went on further to cite that women leaders’ active involvement in support programmes empowers other women, the youth and the community at large.
Seeing women in positions taking action to uplift communities encourages others to pursue leadership roles, breaking gender norms and promoting gender equality.
According to her, women in politics should not participate in these programmes with the mentality of winning votes, they should however do so to enhance community cohesion, implement solutions that address their needs and create a positive impact on people’s lives.
She went on further to explain some examples of community-based activities and programs she has undertaken to inspire the community positively.
Fatma Barayan provided legal services to boda-boda youth for free. She represented them in court too. She would then create awareness and inform them about their rights and traffic offences.
She also represented 42 young people in court after being accused of being part of the Wakali Kwanza group, a group of gangs that were terrorizing residents in Mombasa. The case is still ongoing for the remaining people.
She also presented policies to commissioners and other leaders that were to be passed on to the national and county government. She came up with the microfinance law with the idea of assisting law-abiding citizens to access loans from the license they pay with an interest of 3 per cent in the county government. This would empower the youth to start businesses hence curbing poverty.
Fatma Barayan, besides losing the election, supports women in their community groups by giving contributions which help in paying fees for needy children. She educates them on their sexual rights.
They discuss issues on gender-based violence. She represents them in courts on matters rape and defilement.
The involvement of women in politics has brought a remarkable transformation in community support groups. They have become an integral part of grassroots movements and organizations that uplift and empower communities.
From advocating for inclusive policies to fostering a sense of solidarity, women’s involvement in politics has redefined the role of community support groups and paved the way for lasting impact and progress.
Women in leadership positions can use their platform to advocate for policies that support community development and social justice. Their influence can drive the allocation of resources that uplift populations.
Ziprose Akinyi is a community leader in Mombasa, Kisauni constituency. She serves as a link between the government and the community. She also ensures the community is safe and that there’s development.
She campaigns for aspirants in her region and creates awareness of their manifestos and policies.
In an interview, she explained how she campaigned for Ms Mohammed, Women Rep Mombasa County after prioritising the needs of the underrepresented groups in their region.
She stated that Zamzam Mohammed worked with local organisations and NGOs bridging the gap between community support groups and government institutions. This fostered collaboration and solidarity.
“We have a community project called the community health volunteer project. We make home visits and deliver health promotion messages. We also advocate for underserved individuals to receive services and resources to address their health needs. During the covid 19 period, we were sensitized to the need of wearing masks and sanitising. Ms Mohammed ensured we received training from professionals. She liaised with other leaders to ensure we got enough finances and resources in spreading the news.”
“We have another group called Odi. In this group, we provide a safe and supportive environment for women to share their experiences, challenges and aspirations. Ms Mohammed came on board and asked for children who were not in school due to various reasons like teenage pregnancies and lack of school fees, she took them to school and paid for their school fees,” she pointed out.
She went on further to say the presence of women in politics serves as an inspiration for young girls and aspiring leaders.
“The increasing presence of women in politics serves as an inspiration to young females and aspiring leaders. When they see these leaders, they realize they can be leaders too. The barriers they once thought were insurmountable crumbles and they start dreaming big.
By breaking down barriers and advocating for inclusive policies, women in politics demonstrate the transformative power of leadership and serve as trailblazers for the next generation. As Kenya looks to the future, it is the collaborative efforts of women that will pave the way for a brighter, equitable and prosperous society.
A report published by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) as well as the Federation of Women Advocates in Kenya (FIDA), indicated that women made huge strides in terms of politics and leadership, during the last polls.
The same report adds that, in the whole of Kenyan history, 29 per cent of women vied for different leadership positions in 2017, than in past elections in the country, whereas, more women were elected as senators and governors.
The report continues to proclaim that women hold 172 seats out of 1,883 seats, all the way up from 145 seats which they acquired during the 2013 general election
Mzalendo Trust, a Civil Society in Kenya, established a report called “Owning the Space” which dwelled on the participation and inclusion of women in parliament.
The report cites that women’s inclusion and effective participation in Parliament is a key indicator to building an open and democratic society as it is through the parliament that laws are debated, passed and enacted, human rights guaranteed and transparency promoted.
The report argues that women’s inclusion in decision-making ensures that all voices in society; women’s needs, interests and experiences are reflected and captured in the decision-making process.
The study objectifies to establish the participation of female MPs in advancing and executing their parliamentary functions to gain insights into the support given to women parliamentarians by stakeholders and to generate information on best practices for structural interventions on the election and representation of women.
The report quotes Article 91 of the constitution that provides for basic requirements of political parties in respecting the rights of all persons in political processes and promoting human rights, fundamental freedoms and gender equality and equity.
It explains that the IEBC is a key institution in improving the representation of women in Kenya as it is mandated to regulate, oversee and conduct elections in Kenya and audit the political party nomination list to ensure inclusivity and representation adhering to not more than two-thirds sensitivity and responsiveness.
In 2015, Mzalendo Trust conducted a study entitled “Debunking Myths: Women’s’ contribution in Kenya’s 11th Parliament” which focused on the 11th Parliament from March 2013 to June 2015.
The report relied on the official verbatim house debate records captured on Hansard, the Kenyan Parliament website. The study established that women parliamentarians in the 11th Parliament were fulfilling their constitutional mandate by sponsoring bills, tabling motions, requesting statements and issuing petitions.
This trend seems to have continued throughout the 11th Parliament and in the first two years of the 12th Parliament. Female members in the National Assembly and the Senate were able to sponsor 31 per cent and 40 per cent of the bills and motions respectively.
Membership and Contributions to Parliamentary Committees
From the study, it was established that women supported each other and generated numbers that helped push the national agenda. Women county Reps’ agenda extended beyond women’s issues and contributed greatly to national interest issues that encompassed regional integration bodies like East African Community and Common Wealth Parliamentary Association.
They sponsored laws on families such as The children’s Bill, the protect against domestic violence bill and the matrimonial property bill. Furthermore, women were instrumental in passing bills on security, finance water, health and devolution.
The report on “Owning the Space” has also reviewed women who significantly contributed to Parliament.
Priscillah Nyokabi Kanyua, former Nyeri County MP and chairperson of the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) initiated and enacted the Access to Information Act of 2016. During her stint in Parliament, Hon. Nyokabi championed issues of women, human rights and development. She championed matters of education and water as well.
Hon. Sabina Chege, former Woman Representative for Murang’a previously chaired the education committee in the national assembly and the health committee. She also sponsored the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill that would require employers to provide facilities and breaks for employees who were breastfeeding.
Hon. Maison Leshomo contributed to issues touching girl child education, women issues and security in the North Frontier counties.
Hon. Susan Musyoka and Hon. Florence Mutua, in August 2015, spearheaded the formation of the Evidence-informed policy-making caucus o champion its use in the Kenyan parliament with support from AFIDEP.
Hon. Gathoni Wa Muchomba is the current MP for the Githunguri constituency and former Kiambu women’s representative who initiated the Anti-illicit Brew Campaign in Kiambu after several people in her community were affected by the “mung’etho culture”. She met with the communities, discussed their problems and initiated a “mama care addiction recovery centre”. This centre gets to the young people who are addicts of alcohol and supporting them to normalcy.
Hon. Wa Muchomba also initiated a transformative learning programme called “some” where older persons, 18-50, are taken back to school. These people study at informal schools every day after work. She has partnered with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology produce Tissue cultured Bananas and distributes them for free in her community and is known as “wamama” from the same.
Hon. Gladys Wanga, in her first term as Homa Bay County MP, initiated a table banking arrangement where small-scale women rural fishers could contribute their savings and pull together for welfare support. Hon. Wanga also created Homa Bay Women SACCO which was boosted by NGAAF funds where women would save, get credit and repay depending on their ability. The project was christened ‘abedo’ meaning women who do informal trades.
Hon. Wanga supports the youth by initiating vocational training programs, sports activities, education and girl-child empowerment through sanitary pads distribution.
According to the report, owning the space, efforts are being put in to ensure that there is substantive representation of women in parliament.
This requires capacity building of both the existing women in parliament and those aspiring. Some of the institutions that have been mentioned in training women parliamentarians include UN Women, Transparency International Kenya (TI-K), and CREAW among others.
The report continues to claim that there are organisations that have supported women in parliament in developing and sponsoring bills as well as the development of parliamentary thematic caucuses such as Katiba Institute, International Institute of Legislative Affairs, and Institute of Economic Affairs among others.
The report adds that the Centre for Parliamentary Studies and Training (CPST) is mandated to support the research and training of parliamentarians and orient new MPs on house rules and standing orders.
The report also established that joint efforts between Civil Society Organizations and women in parliaments produced good results resulting in legislation like the Public Benefit Organizations (PBO) Act 2013 and the Access to Information Act 2016.
It went on further to explain that women parliamentarians receive a lot of support for legislative strengthening from the CSOs. There has been adequate capacity building for women parliamentarians for them to be able to take up their roles as legislators.
CSOs also offer technical assistance in writing memos and even guide them on how to speak on the floor of the house.
Organisations such as AFIDEP are involved in different projects in promoting the institutionalization of evidence used in decision-making. AFIDEP has worked with the parliamentary committee on health and the Caucuses on Population and Development.
CSOs have also contributed to the induction of KEWOPA members. Idah Knowles, a gender and good governance practitioner, at Mzalendo Trust, which is a parliamentary monitoring organisation. She spoke in an interview and said that women in politics recognize the importance of nurturing the leaders of tomorrow. It is through their mentorship programs and leadership workshops that they impart essential skills and knowledge to empower the younger generation to take an active role in civic life.
“Women in politics are creating platforms for young individuals to learn about governance, advocacy and public speaking. By developing their leadership potential, these programs instil confidence and equip the youth to be agents of change. These programs equip the youth with essential skills and knowledge when taking roles in civic life.”
She went on further to explain that women in politics strive to break down gender-based barriers and promote inclusivity. They advocate for equal representation and create gender-sensitive policies that inspire the younger generation to challenge societal norms and embrace diversity.
Ms Idah believes that women running for office are mandated to persuade their communities that they can bring something to the table once chosen.
“People of the community have seen that some of our leaders have ruled with little or no change and that’s why it’s the role of women aspiring to be in leadership positions to persuade the community leaders, the youth themselves and women that they are the change. Many women do this and they get votes, some get reelected 4-5 times.”
“Convincing a society that has given up on good democracy might be hard but having a chance to show them that democracy can be leveraged on is the only option. This can be done through mentorship programs on community gatherings and advocacy spaces.”
She goes on further to explain that women in politics can partner with Civil Society Organizations and local community-based organizations to create awareness of their agenda and policies.
She concluded that women in politics and those aspiring need to come up with programs and initiatives that can help build their brand and grow their identity. This could be coming up with education reforms, rehabilitation centres or even mentorship programs. Aligning themselves with what they believe in could earn them the community’s trust.
This story is by Priscillah Kaigai as part of the African Women in Media (AWiM)/Luminate Young Women in Politics Media Project