Kenya’s Women Politicians : Dealing Perpendicularly With Opponents

Women leaders from around the world including Ethiopian President Sahle Work-Sewde have noticed that ‘political shifts threaten to erode progress made’ and earlier this year, wrote an open letter which said in part:

In early June 2019, a clip just under 10 minutes shared the vocal defence Kenyan MP Millie Odhiambo shared in support of proposed Ambassador Mwende Mwinzi, MP Esther Passaris and former MP Rachel Shebesh who are a selection of her fellow women in Kenya’s political leadership. It was taken as a funny snapshot of her threatening to ‘deal with men perpendicularly’ a phrase I last heard made vocal by another woman leader Hon Mishi Mboko in 2017.

When I coordinated a project which advocated for gender equality, diversity and inclusion in Kenya, nowhere have I seen more opposition to women than in political leadership. Through media, measurement and advocacy campaigns, I worked with colleagues across Kenya working to increase the visibility and position of women as leaders at every level, from teacher-parent committees, to community groups, leading on cause campaigns and even political leadership. However, the relentless reported physical and virtual violence followed women across the political divide. Sadly, it continues to date.

Country Engagement, Kenya :Women and Girls Lead                          Women in Leadership, Media Engagement, Film for International Development, Advocacy. The project ran in Kenya (Jan 2013 - Dec 2017) I was fortunate to be the Country Engagement Coordinator selected to start up the Women and Girls Lead Kenya program, which was run by ITVS and funded through USAID and Ford Foundation. Key roles: Project management, Developing Grant-Funded National Partnerships, National Coordination, Content Production and Distribution, Media Engagement, Event Organization and Management. Read more:

In this clip, Hon. Odhiambo deals with the troubling double standard to which women in leadership are held. She also calls on all members to focus on their overall legislative and oversight roles and not on petty attacks on individual members, like Hon Passaris. Check out the whole clip below

The problems women in politics in Kenya and across the world are well documented. Their numbers in the Senate and Parliament jumped during the 2013 elections and have continued to grow. However, negative personal attacks using media are particularly concerning because they shape national conversations about whether women deserve a place in leadership at all, and affect every part of our society. It is not enough to talk about who they are, or ask them to rise above the negativity, but essential to remind ourselves of who they are.

RD, 2013

Who are women leaders in Kenya? Daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, community organizers, professionals in every arena, freedom fighters and so much more. However, the world now is experiencing a pushback against the gains that women leaders have secured. This calls for a strong set of voices to deal with all opposition to women leaders perpendicularly among other ways of acting for women leadership, and gender equality overall.

What do you think about the current state of women in politics and other areas of leadership?

Let me know in the comments section below.

PS: If you haven’t encountered much about Kenyan women in politics, check out Brenda Wambui’s excellent podcast Otherwise? which has several episodes on women in politics, with rich resources on the entire topic.



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