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Kenya sees surge in women in elective politics — but there is still a long way to go

Kenya makes progress in women’s political representation but gender disparity gap is still wide

The struggle for greater gender equality in Kenya’s political arena appears to be yielding fruit, with more female candidates winning leadership positions in the recent national elections.

The number of women elected to various positions during August 2022 elections increased to 194 from 179 in 2017. Seven incoming governors are women, more than doubling from three elected in 2017. Additionally, 26 women were elected as members of parliament, up from 23 in the last election.

Women’s political participation is changing and the high number of candidates is part of a rising trend over the past few years. A total of 43 women contested for senate in 26 counties and 225 women vied for parliamentary seats in 152 constituencies. The success rate is now almost at par that of male contestants. Overall, women representation in the national assembly has risen by 40% in the last 20 years.

Nakuru county leads with the highest number of women in parliament — four in the 11 constituencies, accounting for 36.4%. In Lamu county, one woman was elected out of the two available slots.

Progress is however not even across all counties — especially in the North, where powerful clan elders handpick political aspirants, often to the disadvantage of women candidates. In historically marginalised counties, women lack education and access to resources necessary to participate in often expensive political processes. As a result, representation is still low in counties such as Turkana, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, West Pokot, and Tana River where no woman has been elected in the last two election cycles.

And despite the overall gains, Kenya still lags behind its peers. According to World Bank data, the proportion of seats held by women stood at 22%, which pales in comparison to other neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, where women parliamentarians exceed 60%. In Uganda, women make 34% of parliament and occupy nearly half the cabinet seats.

In the campaigns, political camps devised various tactics to attract the large women vote. The Azimio la Umoja coalition fielded a woman as the presidential running mate, while William Ruto, the current president, promised two-thirds of his cabinet to women. He has since appointed seven women, representing 32% of his cabinet.

But away from the political gesturing, there are still challenges meeting the constitutional threshold, which provides that no more than two-thirds of elective or appointive positions should be composed of the same gender. Successive parliaments have been reluctant to enact enabling legislation to allow full implementation of the quota. As a result, women are still underrepresented in other levels of leadership.

The need for more women leaders is not just a Kenyan issue, but a global one. According to Sustainable Development Goal 5, gender equality is essential for achieving other SDGs.

It has been noted that at the current pace, it will take another 40 years to achieve equal representation in national political leadership.

One of the elected women leaders who overcame the existing barriers is Linet Chepkorir, 24, who became Kenya’s youngest parliamentarian, representing Bomet county.

Chepkorir, graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor of Business Administration from Chuka University and recounts that her political journey was marred with stigma around her age and marital status.

Like Chepkorir, many women have historically faced significant barriers when seeking to participate in leadership. Among them are women candidates facing violence and abuse perpetrated by various actors, including political opponents. However, little or no action is taken against abusers.

Women representation carries several benefits to society, for example, as role models to inspire others to take up leadership positions.

They positively impact policies since they bring a fresh perspective while offering uniquely important mentorship, which can have other benefits such as helping reduce the gender pay gap, creating more equal workplace policies and attracting a more diverse workforce.

Hopefully, women garnering leadership positions will continue. But this calls for more advocacy campaigns especially in the regions that are not open to women in political leadership.

This story was written by Emma Kisa and Keziah Kinuthia as part of Code for Africa’s open.AFRICA initiative



Series of data-driven stories on gender gap and gender equality in African countries

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