Nairobi — Women boldly stood up to be elected during December's general elections. They turned out in their highest number ever -- 269 -- to contest Kenya's 210 parliamentary seats.
This record number ignited so much hope, especially among women, that some estimated that at least 50 could make it to parliament. Out of 2,548 parliamentary contenders 10.6 percent were women.
During the 2002 elections there were only 44 women out of a total 1,015 vying for parliamentary seats. Nine of them were elected while various parties nominated nine more to make the total number of women in the last parliament 18.
Generally, the performance of women during the parliamentary elections this time around was slightly higher than the last elections, 15 being elected. However, taking into account the number of women candidates last year as compared to 2002, women did not perform as well as expected.
Last year 5.6 percent of the candidates made it to parliament, 20.4 percent succeeded in 2002.
The good news is that the number of elected women parliamentarians has increased from 4.2 per cent in the last parliament to 7.1 per cent now.
After elections of parliamentary seats, parties share 12 nomination slots. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) -- with the largest number of members of parliament (MPs) -- nominates six, and the list of nominees the party has submitted to the Electoral Commission of Kenya has three women on it. If the other parties also nominate at least three women in the six remaining slots, then the number of women in parliament could reach 21.
Despite the increase in the number of women contenders, there were those that did not pin much hope on their performance.
In an interview with IPS prior to the Dec. 27 elections, Rosemary Okello- Orlale, executive director of the African Woman and Child Feature Service, said most of the women candidates were in periphery parties which were unknown to voters. This could affect their performance as the party one stands on contributes to one's chance of winning, she explained.
"I am not seeing a need to celebrate the high number of women contenders, because the performance is likely to be as low as it was in 2002," Okello- Orlale predicted.
An Aug. 2007 poll conducted by the Centre for Multiparty Democracy, a non- governmental organisation in Nairobi, indicated that 78 percent of voters are influenced by party affiliations or manifestoes.
This study and Okello's assertion were proved when most of the women who stood on either the ODM or Party of National Unity (PNU) -- the incumbent's party -- tickets sailed through the elections in areas where their respective parties were popular. Of ODM's 99 MPs, six are women out of the seven who contested on the party's ticket and PNU has four women out of its 44 MPs elected.
Four women MPs made it to parliament through small parties but among them were two former ministers.
Former Minister for Health, Charity Ngilu swam against the tide and won her seat for the fourth time. She stood on the former ruling party's National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) ticket. NARC, which she chairs, has only three MPs in parliament including her.
Presidential candidate, Kalonzo Musyoka of Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya (ODM-K), finished a distant third in the discredited presidential elections and has since formed a coalition with Kibaki and PNU. He has been appointed vice president.
Since Kibaki was announced winner of the controversial presidential elections, this east African country has been suffering countrywide protests against his re-election. Currently international mediators -- led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan -- are here to help solve the crisis.
Former Minister for Immigration Jebii Kilimo also won with the KENDA party in an area whose electorate largely supported ODM.
Women candidates had to deal with issues ranging from culture and a predominantly patriarchal society to lack of resources and voters who usually vote for the person most generous with handouts.
"I ask my potential voters to look at the bigger picture, what lies ahead for them once I am their MP. But as soon as my opponents pour money to them, my promise of visionary leadership is forgotten," Pamela Mburia, a parliamentary contestant on one of the smaller party tickets told IPS just before the elections. Her bid to capture a seat failed.
Some women soldiered on to overcome the predominant belief that women have no place in politics. One such woman is the new MP for Eldoret South in western Kenya, Peris Chepchumba, who trounced 11 men to clinch the ODM ticket during the party primaries. She went ahead to win because the party was popular on the ground.
In an interview with one of the local dailies, Chepchumba described her experience during the nominations as most gruelling. "My rivals were fighting me just because of my gender. They openly said that it was better for them to lose to a man than to a woman," she told the newspaper.
The performance of these 15 women elected to parliament may pave the way for more women to be elected in future.
"I'd vote a woman for MP again and again," Charles Muli who comes from Hon Ngilu's constituency told IPS in Nairobi. "The woman will use money allocated for the constituency's development in an open and transparent way. My home area is more advanced than neighbouring constituencies because my MP is a woman," Muli said.
During the campaigns in last year's elections, some of the women candidates from Ngilu's neighbourhood used her example of development in her constituency to drum up support for themselves.
"Since independence, my area has had male MPs but they have lagged behind in development. I told my voters to choose me to realise growth just like other women MPs such as Ngilu have brought to their constituencies, but they ignored my appeal," a woman who did not win the seat she contested told IPS in Nairobi.