The number of women vying for various positions in this year’s General Election at the Coast has dropped compared to 2013.
This has triggered alarm among women leaders and gender activists, who view it as a step backwards.
It is seen to work against the quest by gender activists and other civil society organisations to have more women in leadership.
In the 2013 elections, 49 women candidates plunged into the men-dominated career.
While 30 of them fought it out among themselves for the woman representative position that is reserved for them, 19 others faced off with men for the posts of governor, senator and member of Parliament.
However, that number has been dramatically whittled down to only 27 candidates, 15 of whom are poised to fight it out with men for the governor, senator and MP positions.
Two women, Ms Jacinta Mwatela and Ms Sophy Kibai Wali, both from Taita-Taveta County, tried their hand in the governorship race and lost.
This year, Ms Mwatela, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank, is the only woman candidate for governor in the region, a position she is contesting on an Amani National Congress (ANC) ticket.
Political observers attribute this decline to a violent political atmosphere — whether real or perceived — that is likely to be witnessed this time round, a fact that is disadvantaging women.
Add to this increased cost of funding and managing campaigns and other logistics and women candidates have found it prohibitive to vie for the various positions.
At a meeting in Mombasa, women aspirants claimed they were asked for sexual favours, intimidated and bribed and discriminated against by their male counterparts during the political party primaries.
They urged the government to ensure women politicians are protected during the August 8 election.
Local Capacities for Peace International director Millicent Otieno said women aspirants still faced challenges in politics from their male counterparts.
“The women aspirants have confessed that when seeking the elective positions, they are usually asked for sexual favours by men,” Ms Otieno said.
“However, they should not yield to the demands.”
She however blamed the women for failure to report such cases to the relevant authorities for action.
“There are others who have been assaulted but they are too ashamed to come out and report such cases,” Ms Otieno lamented.
“Our political arena is patriarchal; men feel they are more deserving than the women, hence women have to work extra hard to get party tickets.”
Speaking during a station-to-station peace caravan spearheaded by NTV journalist Lolani Kalu, Old Town Ward aspirant Aisha Omar wept as she narrated the tribulations she went through during the nominations, mainly due to her gender.
“I was also rigged out due to lack of money and being a woman is also a weakness. But we will never give up as women.
“I will not leave my party due to what happened but one day we will have a woman president in Kenya,” Ms Omar said.
Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Mombasa woman rep aspirant Asha Mohammed also called for peace ahead of the election, as did the incumbent, Ms Mishi Juma Mboko, who is the ODM candidate for Likoni Constituency.
“The greatest challenge women aspirants face is financial constraints. Most of them do not have the kind of money that men have to mobilise voters and facilitate campaigns.
“The other one is violence meted out on them by their male opponents or their agents," Ms Mboko said.
"Men are most of the time too rough; they intimidate women, even use derogatory language on them and hire goons to send the women opponents into submission.
“I, for one, I have been intimidated so much, left, right and center. But I have grown enough shock absorbers; that is how I have managed to reach where I am.”
Jubilee Party Mombasa Woman Rep primaries loser Margaret Ambasa said lack of awareness also contributed to their loss.
“When it comes to political party meetings, we are not informed; we are sidelined as women. It is not fair at all,” she said.
Professor Rocha Chimera gives various reasons for the scenario that could have been a hindrance and discouragement to women.
The celebrated linguistics scholar and author, who is also a lecturer at Pwani University, is however quick to add that there will be “a major bounce-back” in 2022 as women seem to be strategising and reading for the polls, which, he says, are not likely to be as violent as the 2017 ones.
“First of all, there is a general reduction of women candidates in the country. But, for the Coast, one of the reasons is that our culture is still a lot more patriarchal," Prof Chimera said.
“Among the Mijikenda and largely among the indigenous coastal communities, a woman is still a victim of cultural inhibition, not yet fully viewed as a leader on an equal level with a man.”
He added: “When a woman fights for leadership, particularly political, she is smeared with mud and society looks at her differently than a man. But this is gradually changing.”
The don went on: “This year’s politics is also too violent and extremely costly as leaders want to complete their second and final term.
"Men are ruthless, even murderers; not so for women. I have never, for example, heard that a woman candidate’s camp has killed an opponent’s supporters but it is happening with the men.
"The economic hardships experienced today, such as explosive commodity prices, says the don, affect women, who are the family keepers, as they struggle more with the primary duty to feed their hungry children.
"They, therefore, have no time to engage in a secondary activity such as politics."
“There are numerous unseen reasons prohibiting women from coming out in as large numbers as men to vie for political positions.
"But this trend is slowly waning and the future will see a completely different scenario.”
The woman rep position, constitutionally reserved for women, has also witnessed a major reduction in candidates this year compared to 2013.
Some of the winners in the last elections — such as Kilifi Woman Rep Aisha Jumwa and her Mombasa colleague, Ms Mboko — have switched to parliamentary positions.
Their Taita-Taveta peer Joyce Lay is now eyeing the senate seat.
The number of women candidates in the Coast has plummeted from 49 in the 2013 polls to 16 this year.
In 2013, Kilifi had 11, Mombasa 10, Tana River seven, Kwale six, Taita-Taveta five and Lamu four women candidates.
THIS YEAR'S CANDIDATES
There were four women senate candidates in 2013 — Ms Naomi Sidi Kumbatha and Ms Patience Mkambe Mwangiri in Kilifi, Ms Alice Mbodze Shehe (Mombasa) and Ms Zainab Adam Musa (Lamu).
This year however there are three — Ms Hazel Katana in Mombasa and Ms Lay and Ms Ana Kina Nyambu (both in Taita-Taveta).
The number of parliamentary candidates in the region has also shrunk — from 14 in 2013 to 10.
The 2017 candidates include Ms Jumwa (ODM, Malindi), Dr Naomi Shaban (Jubilee, Taveta), Ms Mercy Nema Baya (Devolution Party of Kenya, Garsen), Ms Mboko (ODM, Likoni), Ms Emma Mbura (Maendeleo Chap Chap, or MCC, Rabai) and Ms Esther Kache (Jubilee, Kilifi North).
The others are Ms Esther Kondo (Labour Party of Kenya, Rabai), Ms Ruth Lelewu (ODM, Taveta), Ms Marere wa Mwachai (National Vision Party, Msambweni) and Ms Patience Chome (Kadu-Asili, Kaloleni).
WOMAN REP LIST
The women MP candidates in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) list in 2013 included Ms Ephie Chari Wesa, Ms Margaret Safari, Ms Mary Mkambe Kabani and Ms Rachael Bessie Dzombo.
The others were Ms Rehmat Nadzua Sebisubi, Ms Saida Rama Shikeli and Ms Marere Mwarapayo, Ms Amina Abdalla, Dr Shaban, Ms Ruth Mkulumbu Lelewu, Ms Anne Mkang’ombe and Ms Irene Matsawi Fibe.
The 2017 woman rep list comprises Ms Zuleikha Hassan Juma (ODM, Kwale), Ms Zainab Chidzuga (Jubilee, Kwale), Ms Fatuma Tabwara (Reformed Development Party, Kwale), Ms Asha Mohamed “Ashuu” (ODM, Mombasa) and Ms Amina Abdallah (Jubilee, Mombasa).
The others are Ms Zam Zam Mohamed (Wiper, Mombasa), Ms Halima Anwar Mohamed (MCC, Mombasa) and Ms Janet Mwawasi (independent, Taita-Taveta).
The others are Ms Anisa Hope Sanguli (ODM, Taita-Taveta), Ms Priscillah Mwangeka (Wiper, Taita-Taveta), Ms Lydia Haika Mizighi (Jubilee, Taita-Taveta), Ms Shakila Mohamed Abdalla (Wiper, Lamu), Ms Aisha Nizar Abdalla (ODM, Lamu), Captain Ruweida Mohamed Obbo (Jubilee, Lamu), Ms Mariam Abubakar (MCC, Lamu) and Ms Muthoni Monica Marubu (independent, Lamu).