Kisii County’s political landscape is set for a dynamic shift if the number of women who have joined the race for elective seats clinch victory in the General Election, days away.
At least three women have rolled up sleeves and have stamped their presence in what has long been considered a male dominated field.
In Nyaribari Chache, for instance, Ms Racheal Otundo, a land valuer, is locking horns with the incumbent Mr Richard Tongi (Jubilee Party) in what is shaping up fast as a gruelling political contest.
It will be some delicate balancing as she navigates through a horde of other male candidates – Mr Zaheer Jhanda (Wiper Democratic Party), Mr Ben Mogaka (KNC), Chris Bichage (ODM and Mr James Kenani (PDP) – to win the seat.
Former area MP Robert Monda, has also trained his eyes on the same seat but on an ANC ticket.
It will be Ms Otundo second attempt to hunt for the parliamentary seat after she was edged out in the last elections by Mr Tongi, (formerly of Ford People).
JOBS FOR YOUTH
Should she be elected, says Otundo, she will be push for more jobs for the youth.
She told the Nation that the current retirement age that was pushed up from 55 to 60 years is pushing many graduates into unemployment.
“I will ensure national jobs are also equally distributed to counties the same way they do with teachers and police. This will engender parity’,” said Ms Otundo.
Gusii land politics has often been seen to be more patriarchal locking out the participation of women from elective politics.
And, save for those that had been nominated in the past by various parties to the National and County assemblies, no female candidate has won a seat to parliament.
In Bomachoge Borabu constituency, Ms Gertrude Nyatichi, a widow, is the Amani National Congress (ANC) flagbearer for the constituency’s parliamentary seat.
Despite being in a crowded race where she is pitted herself against 12 male opponents, Ms Nyatichi says she is confident of emerging the winner in the coming polls.
Her entry into politics, she says, was largely influenced by what she sees as ‘failed leadership that has contributed to the spiralling poverty levels in the constituency.
“Apart from that, women, the disabled and elderly have also been marginalised. The youth have been discriminated and cannot get jobs. I got into the race so that I can change all these and bring sanity in the constituency leadership,” says Ms Nyatichi.
If elected, the parliamentary candidate says she intends to put an end to what she calls exploitation and oppression of widows, a vice she says is rampant within her community.
Ms Nyatichi says she is passionate on the plight of widows citing her own experience after her husband was killed last year in the Al-Shabaab attack in El Adde.
She says she was stripped off all her properties by some male relatives.
“To date I have not been able to recover our property, but as a Christian I have let it go. Nonetheless it has forged that iron determination in me to fight for other women going through the same ordeals,” says Ms Nyatichi.
As a widow, Ms Nyatichi faces further challenges including constant criticism and insults from her male opponents, who brand her a spoiler and ask her to go for the Woman Rep and ‘stop scrambling for a seat meant for men’.
However, says, she has remained unfazed and looks forward to clinch the seat.
“My opponents with time have realized I am unshakable and have begun taking my bid seriously. My response to their taunts is being stoic and focus on what best I can do for my people’ she said.
She cites hostility to women candidates as one of the key challenges in the thick heat of Kenyan politics.
She campaigns on the platform of development, pledging a bakery and a milk processing plant in her backyard to spur job creation.
“We only have three factories in Kisii. There is need to build more factories because we already have a ready market for products” she says.
In Bonchari Constituency, Mary Ratemo, a former chief, has weathered all odds to ensure that her name is on the ballot on August 8 where she is battling it out with 10 male rivals.
“My determination to lead this constituency is driven by the fact that there has been no major developments for years because the incumbent has been too comfortable in power,” she says.
“For two decades, we have suffered under his leadership and it is time someone stepped up to him and put an end to his unfruitful reign. I believe I am that person,” she adds.
She accuses her rivals of spreading propaganda against her based on her gender but assures her supporters that it will not deter her from running.
“They are trying to portray female leadership as weak, but I believe women can be the best leaders if they fight for these positions,” Ms Ratemo says.
Among her many agendas is to battle protect young mothers in their working environments.
FEAR LOSING JOBS
“Working women fear getting pregnant because they are terrified of losing their jobs especially in a time where getting a trustworthy caregiver is next to impossible,” Ms Ratemo said.
Promoting transparency and accountability of the funds allocated to the constituency will be her core values once elected so that she can prove to the patriarchal Kisii Community that women can be good leaders.
The three claim that women for a long time avoided running against men for a leadership position for fear of the backlash they would get from the community.
Ms Nyatichi says they also lack confidence and the mechanism they would use to unseat the incumbent MPs who are not only popular despite their poor track records, but have also been in power for years.
“Women are at a high risk because most of us do not have enough funds to maintain a security team and talking about sensitive issues may prove dangerous especially when they receive threats from their opponents who are suppressing them into dropping their bid,” said Ms Ratemo.
She however urged the media to be gender sensitive in the coverage of candidates so that women aspirants gain more confident.
According to them, women can perform better in leadership roles than their male opponents if given opportunity.
“Women are very capable, more than men but because of the intimidation they fear coming out of their cocoons and join politics.” She said.