Women should not wait to be invited to the political table. They have to pull up a chair and take a seat, two women’s leaders asserted on Tuesday.
Sophie Ngugi and Maria Okong’o said the new Constitution has given birth to a new Kenya and offered women the opportunity to become political actors like never before.
Ms Ngugi, executive director of the Young Women’s Leadership Institute and Ms Okong’o a programme manager with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), delivered this message at the National Young Women’s Forum at Ufungamano House, Nairobi. FES is a German political foundation that promotes democracy in Kenya.
Said Ms Ngugi: “There is affirmative action in the Constitution,” referring to the clause that guarantees women at least one-third of all elected or appointed posts in government.
“But we need young women to take more proactive roles. We want women to join political parties and be active because you cannot influence political parties from the outside.”
The all-day seminar was aimed at encouraging young women to harness their rights provided in the new Constitution to have their issues and ideas addressed in the political sphere.
“It is very difficult for someone to feel the pinch of an issue unless they’re experiencing it. It is easier for a women to know what needs to be done as far as reproductive health is concerned because those issues directly affect us,” Ms Ngugi noted.
But many times, women are expected to be apolitical and not concerned with public matters. It’s time women took control and not take a back seat while others make decisions over their lives, their futures and their nation, she added.
The first step is for women to familiarise themselves with what’s in the new Constitution Ms Okong’o said, and second, join a political party — any party.
“If women are not at the table, they have no power of the decisions that are made,” Ms Okong’o added.
Historically, women didn’t feel welcome at the political table for a number of reasons. Illiteracy, financial barriers, family responsibilities and male-dominated agendas made it difficult for women to develop influential roles.
But women are ready to rise up to these challenges, Ms Ngugi said.
“When women want to have families and also engage in politics, they find it very difficult because they feel they have to chose between bringing up their families or joining politics. They can do both,” she said.
“I just want to get people energised to know, ‘I will do it. I can do it. I have to do it.”