The role and scope of women's organizations in enhancing women's participation in Kenyan politics: 1992-2004
Okello, Carolyne A
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In spite of the fact that women constitute more than half the population and have a better voter turnout, the role, scope and quality of women's participation in Kenyan politics has consistently been lower than that of men since independence in 1963. In fact, women form 52% of the Kenyan population and comprise 55% of all voters who turn out in polling stations countrywide'. The study established that women are very active and visible in the economic spheres of development organized in form of women's groups, and informal initiatives. The output of the engagement in the economic sphere is seen with many women owning, managing business initiatives and the women in the labour market. This progress and visibility in the economic sphere has been attributed to the efforts by women's organizations dealing with economic empowerment of the women. The recognition of the power of women's organizations in mobilizing action saw the rise of women's organizations particularly dealing with women's participation in politics from 1992. Yet as the study illuminates this has not significantly shifted the graph of the number and quality of women's participation in elective politics. This study set out to investigate the role and scope of women's organizations in enhancing women's participation in politics at the legislative level. Therefore, this study interrogates the hypothesis that women's organizations have functioned as alternative vehicles for increasing women's general participation in the political process, and specifically, in enhancing the number and quality of women's Participation at the legislative level. Through one-on-one interviews guided by a questionnaire with a purposive sample of former and current women Members of Parliament, leaders of women's organizations and members of Political Parties, supplemented by review of literature the findings suggest that, indeed, women's organizations playa critical role in raising the levels of women's knowledge and skills in politics and in challenging mindsets - of both women and men - that stifle women's drive into politics and development. The period 1992 - 2004 is significant as it represents a phase when women's issues and . participation became more accentuated in Kenya's political culture. The knowledge and information collected in this study suggests that, indeed, women's organizations playa critical role in enhancing women's knowledge, skills and attitudes in participating and penetrating decision making particularly on the political front. Not only do the organizations enhance the quality of women legislators' but also act as effective vehicles for women to access and shape the practice of political parties and political culture particularly in areas such as training, mobilization, campaigning and civic education. It was established that for women, participation in the women's organizations is a necessary means of not only gaining sufficient control over decision-making at governmental levels but also of achieving gender parity. The study found out that this has not been the case due to various reasons; lack of awareness among the women, historical and cultural reasons engendered in the patriarchal society, lack of political commitment to implement affirmative action to propel women in leadership positions on the part of the ruling elite (men), ethnicity and political patronage. With an expanded role and scope of recognition and operation, women's organizations and movements have the potential of fundamentally reconfiguring not only the quality of women's participation but, more importantly, the content and style of political culture at all strata of society. Indeed, it has not been a question of whether women should be involved but rather of how they are involved. 'The question' as F. W. Stone notes 'has always been how to enhance meaningful participation of citizens in a changing democratic society'', It is the recommendation of this study that the government should implement the policies that have been formulated to enhance gender parity in every sector of the society. Women's organizations too should corroborate their efforts and pull together strategically if they have to realize political gains for their members. The political gains include improved women's potential and skills to compete in the political processes at national and party elections.