Media must cover poll with a gender lens

Wednesday May 17 2017

A combined picture of (from left) Millie

A combined picture of (from left) Millie Odhiambo (ODM), Anne Waiguru (Jubilee) and Joyce Laboso (Jubilee) who won in their respective party nominations. PHOTOS | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NANCY BOOKER
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The forthcoming General Election promises great tidings for women.

There will be more women in political leadership, going by the outcomes of the party nominations.

For the first time, we are likely to have female governors and elected senators, more elected MPs and members of county assemblies, in addition to the woman representatives to be elected across the 47 counties.

This will enhance women’s participation in politics.

The affirmative action that created the 47 seats for Woman Representatives was largely misunderstood, as this was the first time Kenyans went to the polls to elect their County Woman Representative.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES

This role has accorded women more opportunities to contribute effectively in the decision-making both at the county and national levels.

Unfortunately, some of those did not also see their role as legislative but rather dwelt on the traditionally feminised expectations of women in society.

While those expectations cannot be ignored, the role of the woman representative is and should largely be legislative.

However, a number of women have been able to convince the voters to elect them to seats that have long been envisioned as the preserve of men.

Women seeking political leadership have faced and continue to face a myriad of challenges.

NEGATIVE PERCEPTIONS

They range from negative perceptions about women who venture into politics, to the stereotypes propagated about women in politics.

A number of them also have to contend with inexperience in navigating the political space and the lack of resources to finance their campaigns.

Culture has also played a key role in hindering women from taking up elective positions as most communities view leadership as a male domain.

The implementation of progressive policies and legislation to ensure equal participation of both genders across all sectors has been rather slow.

Even with all these challenges, women are needed in leadership and governance positions where policies and laws are debated and passed and decisions on resource allocation determined.

EQUAL PARTICIPATION

Women bring to these conversations their lived realities and experiences, which are different from those of men.

Democracy also supports equal participation of both men and women in all spheres of society and media are best placed to encourage this.

The media should play a big role in providing space for coverage of women seeking political offices.

Not only because Article 27 of the Constitution, which speaks to equality and freedom from discrimination, says so, but because media are a key socialising agent and have a duty to serve public interest.

Media practitioners have in the past expressed difficulties in getting women as sources for stories, as panellists, experts or voices on issues of national interest.

TURN VIOLENT

Some affirmative action needs to be applied in the newsrooms for women’s voices to be heard not just as citizens but also as aspirants, voters, experts, and supporters and as those who bear a huge brunt when things turn violent during and after elections.

Media have a duty to cover elections with a gender lens.

This calls for educating voters to recognise and appreciate women candidates so as to demystify long-standing perceptions, stereotypes and cultural beliefs.

It means providing the voters with information on the importance of electing women.

Media must give female candidates a chance to articulate what they stand for and what they will do if elected.

It also entails encouraging women to vote and inviting men and women to discuss not just the campaigns, but also the elections and the implications of outcomes.

Dr Booker is an Assistant Professor of Communications and Multimedia Journalism at the Graduate School of Media and Communications – The Aga Khan University