For a long time, the Maasai community has discriminated against women when it comes to leadership. In the history of the community only three women have ever defied odds to be elected as leaders in Narok county.
Surprisingly, the three were only elected as civic leaders and no woman has ever been elected to Parliament by the community. The three civic leaders are former Narok County Council vice chairperson Agnes Pareiyo from Sakutiek ward who has set her eyes on the Narok county women representative seat, Lorna Nkokuwa who represents Ildamat ward and Lucy Ololngojine who represents Shurtuka ward in Transmara.
However, this is bound to change due to the new constitution. The provision on one third gender in the constitution has acted as an eye opener to Maasai women who are now eyeing various elective seats in the county. The new law roots for gender equality in both appointive and elective posts. It provides that Parliament shall formulate a law to promote the representation of women, persons with disabilities, ethnic and other minorities and marginalised communities in Parliament.
The new dispensation ensures that women and men get the right to equal treatment and opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. A total of seven women have expressed interest in the women representative seat, down from eight after the demise of a woman rights activist, Patricia Parsitau last year.
Among those who have thrown their hats in the ring are, Lydia Masikonde, a daughter of Heritage minister William ole Ntimama, lawyer Soipan Tuya, a daughter of former Narok South MP Samson ole Tuiya, Eunice Marima, wife to former Narok North MP Moses Marima, immediate university student Mercy Cherotich Tembur and Agnes Shonko.
Despite the ushering in of the new constitution, many women still shy away from seeking elective posts. So far no single woman has declared interest in the governor or the senate positions. In the six constituencies in the county, one woman has come out to appeal to voters to give her a chance to be their MP. Janet Naserian, the first wife of former Internal Security minister Julius Sunkuli, is eyeing the Kilgoris parliamentary seat on an ODM ticket.
Apart from those who have shown interest in elective seats, Everlyne Chepkurui Wastabei, who unsuccessfully contested the Narok South parliamentary seat in 2007, is now gunning for the position of deputy governor.
Political analyst Charles Ngeno attributes the unwillingness of women to vie for the governor, senate and parliamentary seats to lack of resources to mount serious campaigns.
Ngeno said the culture that women are weaker is to blame for their dismal performance in politics. "Women on the other hand have yielded to this warped thinking. That they deserve less than men," Ngeno said.
Ngeno asked women not to be contended with what she calls 'kiti ile yenu' and added that they should come out and use their numerical strength to win seats in the county government. Women rights activist Mary Simat fears that it will be hard to conduct the activities of the county government if the one-third rule is not achieved. "Over 98 per cent of the aspirants for the county assembly seats are men. How then will the county achieve the one third rule?" posed Simat. Simat accused men for the current state of affairs adding that men have upheld a culture that women should be led and women have believed it.
"For a long time the Maasai culture has been patriarchal and it will take time to change this. Majority of the women have been made to rely on their husbands in decision making. They have not been given opportunities to prove their leadership," Simat said. She urged men to give women a chance to prove their leadership abilities.
"Women shy away from politics because of violence and harassment by their male rivals. We must give women their chance to seek political office and let us not scare them," she said.
Maasai Professionals chairman Joseph ole Sonkori says women shy away because of the perception that they are not good leaders.
He termed the move as unfortunate because it has worked against women for a long time. "A perception that has been created is that women must be led. Many have even used religious stories to spread and maintain this belief. Maasai women, like other women from Kenya, have the ability to be good managers," said Sonkori.
He refuted claims that lack of resources make women shy away from leadership. "Some women are even wealthier than some male aspirants seeking elective posts, says Sonkori.
"We have had young men who don't have resources trounce wealthier men. Women need to change their attitude and go for the seats created by the new constitution," Sonkori said.
She is the daughter of Heritage minister William ole Ntimama. Lydia is a former director of Rift-Valley Water Services Board. She has a degree in Tourism Management from the University of Nairobi. She was first introduced to politics when she was nominated to the Narok County Council by the ODM party.
She enjoys support from the youth. She said that if elected on an ODM ticket she will offer leadership based on social justice and fairness noting that the communal equity in socio-economic development is key.
"I am ready to transform this cosmopolitan county if given the mandate. I promise to prioritise consolidation and mobilisation of resources and enhance resource allocation to ensure equity to all," Lydia said. She also promised to empower women and youth and boost education standards especially for girls.
She is a former vice-chairperson of the Narok County Council (the first woman in Maasai history to hold such a position) and Sakutiet ward councilor.
Pareiyo, is also a female genital mutilation anti-crusader and the founder and director of Tasaru Ntomonok Rescue Centre. Pareiyo, 57, was also voted the 2005 United Nation's person of the year in Kenya for her fight against female genital mutilation and early marriages.
She said her main vision is to create a transformed county where gender equality is upheld. Pareiyo adds that her experience in national issues has given her a good grasp of both national and local issues. "I am committed to upholding democracy, human rights, fight against corruption, gender parity, youth empowerment, women empowerment, equity in development activities and environmental protection," she said.
Nchoko is a former primary school teacher. The URP aspirant believes leadership has done little to empower women thus her interest in the seat. Nchoko, 45, says that the new constitution has so much for women. "The new constitution has brought about changes; a new way of governance, gender equality hence Kenyans stand a good chance to improve their lives," Nchoko said. She noted that her first assignment, if elected, will be to eradicate retrogressive cultural practices, open business opportunities, agriculture, health care, tourism and education facilities. "I want to be a role model to change the perception that women cannot lead and help the community understand the importance of education," she said.
Mercy Cherotich Tembur-Independent candidate
She is the youngest of all the contenders. She is 24 and hopes to attract the youth vote. Cherotich, who is the latest entrant in the race, is the only aspirant from the Kipsigis community which constitutes 40 per cent of the total population in Narok county. Cherotich, holds Bachelor of Education Arts degree from Kabianga University College.
She has taken her campaigns online and has a website featuring her dreams and vision. She has identified women and youth empowerment as her main agenda and also seeks to promote and enhance the capacity for social justice. Cherotich said that contesting as an independent candidate gives her an upper hand.
"Narok, being a cosmopolitan county, needs an independent leader who will be a neutral face for the voters. There is a tendency for candidates from different political parties to advocate for their individual party policies leaving aside those from other parties hence the inequality," she said.
Eunice is a former wife of the first Narok North MP Moses Marima. She has a diploma in legal studies from Kenya Polytechnic and a certificate in women in leadership from the University of Georgia, US, 2009.
Eunice,60, is a community mobiliser and civic rights activist, who is running for the seat on the platform of providing good governance by scaling up service delivery and inspiring hope to bring about the desired change.
The KNC aspirant says she knows well the hardships experienced by Maasai women. Eunice said she has participated in social, political and economic platforms to uplift the lives of women, children, men and youth at various levels. She said she believes in accountable leadership, stewardship and optimal service delivery.
Marima says she will focus on improving the health sector, creating opportunities to empower people, promote peace and cohesion and champion improvement of education standards.
Shonko is also former teacher. She is banking on the votes of teachers. She has a degree in Education Arts from Moi University. Born in 1970, Shonko has taught in three different schools in the county.
She says she wants to empower women. "Narok's problems can be sorted out by providing water, improved health care and good infrastructure," Shonko said. "Under Vision 2030, Narok is earmarked to host one of the Special Economic Zones focusing on manufacturing, value addition, blending and packaging of maize and wheat. I will force the national government to jumpstart these initiatives by providing the required support to make the major economic projects a reality," she said.
She is a daughter of former Narok South MP Samson ole Tuya. Soipan is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya with a keen interest in public interest litigation and an advocate for gender integration as a critical tool for sustainable development. She undertook undergraduate studies in law at the University of Nairobi and later pursued a Master of Laws degree at the University of Washington, USA.
Soipan has worked in the human rights, gender and access to justice fields with the Ministry of Justice, Kituo cha Sheria, Mainyoito Pastoralist Integrated Development Organisation (MPIDO) and the government task force on community land and USAID. She is a member of the Law Society of Kenya, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples and the Global Indigenous Women Caucus. Soipan asked the locals to rally behind her bid saying she will ensure their voices are heard.
She said women are important in the society and that they should be given an equal share of leadership positions. The aspirant pledged to initiate development projects and further involve women in project development.