MOMBASA, KENYA— The Kenyan constitution of 2010 requires that a women’s representative be elected in each of Kenya’s 47 counties during the next general election, which takes place on March 4. The requirement highlights the under-representation of women in Kenya’s government.
University students from the Coast region held a debate Thursday night to showcase the platforms of their Mombasa county candidates. The event, held at the Little Theater in the coastal city, was hosted by the Visionary Coasterians, a group of students studying at universities around Kenya, but whose homes are in Mombasa. Their aim is to affect positive change in their community.
Many of these students traveled long distances to return home to help with the event.
Chairman Lawrence Nzinga says they were willing to do so because they wanted to hear from the candidates for women’s representative, whom he feels are often overlooked on the campaign trail.
"Because we have found that most of the media, they have considered governors and other posts but women representatives, which are very important, particularly in Coast region... they have neglected them. So we have decided to bring them so we can listen to their manifestos," he said.
Topics covered during the debate were as diverse as education, drug use, early marriage and teen pregnancy, prostitution, and access to financial capital.
One of the women giving her position on these issues was Mariam Bashir Hussein Ali, who goes by the name of Mama Kukukali. In Swahili, this translates directly to "Mother of Harsh Chicken." As an activist, Ali says she was given this nickname because she is ferocious when it comes to protecting her chicks - those who are marginalized and disadvantaged in her community.
"Yes, I can say, we have more skills [than men]," she said. "First of all, a woman is very transparent and a woman, you cannot find a woman who is corrupt. And a woman is a mother, and it’s not easy for a woman to do harmful things to the people. So, a woman leader is better than a man leader."
Taxi driver James Nyagutu says women in the Coast region have been neglected and he feels very strongly that they should be better represented in the Kenyan government.
"You know, women have been marginalized for a long time because men think that the women are the weaker sex. But it’s better we have someone to represent them, someone who can air their grievances, their views, so that the government can take care of them," he said.
Felix Myue works as a parking attendant in Mombasa’s central business district. He says that financial management is key for elected officials and believes that women are better with money than men, whom he says often squander the family’s finances.
"When they get money in the pocket, they just sneak on the way, they go out drinking and whatever and whatever. But even we see, women at home, they know very well how to take care of the rest of the family," he said.
Nyagutu admits that at the Coast, there are some strictly ingrained views about the proper role of women, but thinks these are giving way to more egalitarian opinions.
"Those old babus [grandfathers] - they are the ones who thought that the women’s place is to give birth, and cook food in the kitchen, wash the dishes, just that. To just stay at home. But these days, it’s no more. Women are working, they are getting educated to very high levels. They have PhDs, they have everything, so we cannot deny them the opportunity, the opportunity to serve,” said Nyagutu.
There are 10 women running for the position of women’s representative in Mombasa County.
The 47 elected women’s representatives from around Kenya will be included in the membership of the National Assembly.