The market of Nakuru, a large town in the Kenyan stretch of the Great Rift Valley, is very busy. Damaris and her friend Ayaan are chatting loudly as they make their way through the crowd of small stalls. Although it is now a few weeks since the elections in Kenya, from the poles, the walls and even the trees, the faces of the politicians continue to smile at the couple on the campaign posters. It is obvious that many are of women.
“These are the Nakuru girls”, says Damaris, visibly proud. With that name, she refers to the women who actively participate in politics in the region. Damaris also voted for them. “Now it’s their turn,” she declares. “It’s a huge opportunity.” Nowhere else in Kenya have so many women come out of the polls as in Nakuru. Those elected will sit in the district assembly, but there will also be deputies in parliament, senators, and even governors. “They bring development,” says the young woman.
A few meters away, Peter Maina, 40, leans against a display case full of his wares. He is dedicated to the sale of feminine cosmetics. Maina also voted for the district’s female candidates. “Men love themselves above all,” he says. “They pay little attention to others. They don’t work for us, but for their own money.” A passing woman calls out, “Nakuru girls, we are proud. We are better than men!” She then goes on her way. Maina agrees: “They have good programs,” he says. “They represent the change that I want to see.”
representatives of the people
In the somewhat outdated restaurant of the Merica hotel, in the center of the city, six Nakuru girls. “The name was given to us by the media,” says Grace Mwathi, a regal lady who, of course, can no longer be called “girl”. They have adopted it as well. “Even though we belong to different political movements,” adds Mwathi, “the Nakuru girls we unite to be stronger”.
The six women sitting at the table have just been elected representatives in the Nakuru District Regional Assembly. They will act as a bridge between the people in their constituency and regional politics, and will play a vital role in shaping the political agenda and controlling county rulers.
It is important that women are also heard in this assembly, says Virginia Gichanga. “We know the other women in our districts,” she explains, “and we will make sure they are included in our legislation.” However, women do not always dare to knock on the door of male politicians, says Grace Mwathi. “Especially when they have money problems, they are very vulnerable. That is why women are needed to actively participate in regional politics. We know what problems there are.”
Election observers argue that marginalized groups, “including women, youth and people with disabilities,” should be better represented. However, in her opinion, very few women stood for election because in Kenya it is very expensive. It is estimated that the average campaign expense of a deputy is about 18 million Kenyan shillings, about 150,000 euros.
In addition, female candidates are often victims of intimidation. Isabella Makori has also had bad experiences. “If a woman stands for election, they immediately call her a prostitute,” she denounces. “They ask her where her husband is and tell her to go home and cook for her children.” Men don’t get those questions, she laments. “My husband is my thing, nobody cares who I am married to. They call us rotten fish, treat us with contempt and threaten us”.
It is this kind of intimidation that keeps few women active in politics, says analyst Nerima Wako. “Also in this electoral period, many women have suffered physical and psychological attacks, both in daily life and on the Internet,” she denounces. “And although the extent of the problems is still being investigated, I can say that many women have not reported what has been done to them. So, whatever the outcome, in reality, the magnitude of the problem is much greater.”
Despite this, Wako believes that important steps have been taken on a national scale. 30 deputies have been elected, seven more than in the 2017 elections; for the first time, three of the four candidates for the presidency have been women, and twice as many women have competed for the post of governor as in previous elections. With success: the number of female governors has multiplied by more than two and has gone from three to seven. “It’s a huge step forward,” Wako celebrates. “It shows that young women can go far. Now, in Nakuru, the entire county is governed by us, something that has never happened before.”
30 deputies have been elected, seven more than in the 2017 elections; for the first time, three of the four candidates for the presidency have been women, and twice as many women have competed for the post of governor as in previous elections. With success: the number of female governors has more than doubled from three to seven
Not that women had never been elected in Kenya. For example, in 2017 three female governors were invested. “We’re glad to see them,” says political analyst Steve Biko, “but the fact is, they’re not superior to men at all.” According to him, in the districts governed by women there have not been significant improvements. “Has health care for mothers and children improved? Or infant mortality? No. And that it is the women who take care of the children. We don’t like it, but as political analysts we can’t help but come to this conclusion.”
Wako disagrees with her colleague. Steps have been taken, he reiterates, even if they are almost invisible. She believes that in a district governed by women like Nakuru the differences will be noticed. “Many steps are small. For example, in recent years a woman has made a law that allows lactating mothers to go to Parliament with her baby, which was previously prohibited. Another deputy has campaigned in favor of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and access to contraceptives. She asks a lot of important questions. I think there will be some small legislative progress, but it will not reach the media.
plate and constituency
If anything, the six Nakuru women are combative. The era of women has arrived in the county, the occupants of the Merica Hotel table agree, and they are going to surpass the men. “We have learned that we can fight for our place,” explains Mwathi, “and that leadership has nothing to do with gender. It is said that behind every man there is a strong woman. We are those women, ”she smiles. “If I see a well-groomed man, I don’t see that man, but his wife. We are the ones who iron their shirts. If I can take care of him, why not his constituency?
If I see a well-groomed man, I don’t see that man, but his wife. We are the ones who iron their shirts. If I can take care of him, why not his constituency?
Grace Mwathi, one of the ‘Nakuru girls’
Mwathi’s comment is welcomed by her colleagues, who nod vigorously. “If today they give me 1,000 Kenyan shillings (eight euros),” adds Isabella Makori, combative, “I’ll go shopping for the whole family. Women are good administrators. If they are given to a man, he will go to a bar and have a few beers, or find a girl to escort. In any case, when he comes home he will have only 200 shillings left. That’s how nature works, it can’t be helped.”
The Nakuru women explain that the idea is to use less money for the same purposes. Resources should not end up in the pockets of a few officials. “Before running for office, I worked for the Catholic Biblical Federation,” says Leah Nganga. “There, the way women worked was very different from that of men. We did everything perfectly. The money was spent for the purpose for which it was intended. Men working on the same kinds of projects were always short of money.”
Will there be less corruption in Nakuru now that women are coming to power? Political analyst Steve Biko has his doubts. “Women are just as corrupt as men,” he says. “They even play the game better than them, because they hide behind the shield that they are women. If they are criticized, the first thing they will say is that it is because they are women. In Nakuru, the newly elected senator has been accused of tax evasion for years. Women do not have any specific characteristics that make them less prone to corruption.
However, in the Nakuru market, more hopeful voices sound. “It’s an experiment,” thinks salesman Peter Maina. “We hope that the Nakuru girls develop our county. Come back in a year or two and ask about the women. Then we can tell them if we have chosen well.”
Wako hopes they do well. “Only then will more women be elected in the next elections,” she muses. “In Nakuru and in the rest of the country all eyes are on them.” For Isabella Makori, it’s a pressure: “Women have to put double or triple the effort and intelligence into work,” she says. “It is the only way to show that we are capable of leading much better than men.”
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