The desire to become one of the female law legislatures in the country saw Hon. Beth Syengo walk out of the classroom to vie for the Mwingi North parliamentary seat. The trained teacher resigned and hit the campaign ground to lure constituents to vote for her in the 2007 General Elections.
Despite not winning the elections, her passion for politics did not die. Instead, she joined political party politics and convinced voters that she was fit for the mandate of ensuring that women participate in party activities and inclusivity in leadership structures. As a result, she got elected as the Women League President in the Orange Democratic Movement party.
According to her, the best way to get more women into leadership is by women giving themselves out to be elected. She says that the first win is the declaration to go for an elective position.
“That courage to come out and say we see murky waters of politics and we are ready to go through. We are already strong enough to make leaders. So, women are encouraged to come out in large numbers always for any position that presents itself for leadership,” she said.
And as the country continues to struggle to achieve the two-thirds gender rule, she says there is a need to put efforts to ensure women get into leadership in both elective and appointive positions.
In an exclusive interview with Parents magazine, Hon. Syengo expressed optimism that the two-thirds-gender rule is achievable.
“Women are ready, we have women who have education, women who have their abilities and capabilities, we have women who have the qualifications, and women are getting to that point where we are achieving the two-thirds,” she said.
Hon. Syengo, however, emphasizes that this can only be achieved if the young people elect women in the upcoming general election as long as they possess leadership qualities.
The need for political goodwill
Leaders from Civil Society Organizations say Kenya remains a patriarchal society and have called for empowerment programs so that society can see women as capable leaders just like men. While speaking during a media round-table meeting organized by Voice for Women and Girl’s Rights-Kenya, Winnie Mburu from National Gender and Equality Commission said achieving affirmative action requires unity from various stakeholders.
“The main issue is we need a good political will in this country to be able to achieve the gender parity… if we had political goodwill even among the political parties, they will feel it’s imperative for them to ensure that they comply,” she stated.
Winnie said there is a need to look at how to ensure that the opposite gender rule, is entrenched by providing a good platform for the realization of two-thirds representation to ensure greater participation and inclusion of women especially in the elections.
“As a commission, we are saying that we need to have a grass-root movement. Let the citizens be the movers of the two-thirds-gender rule and then again legislation of article 100 we are aware that it has not been legislated into law more than 10 years,’ she noted.
Even though there is a lot to be done, some important milestones have been reached. As President Uhuru Kenyatta’s two terms come to an end after the August General Elections, he is proud that his government has built women’s leadership and expanded their fields of participation in governance.
While speaking during the 59th Madaraka Day celebrations earlier this month, the head of state hailed his efforts to foster inclusivity and gender parity.
“I appointed Fatuma Ahmed as the first woman Major-General of our Defense Forces in 2018. Similarly, the first holder of the constitutional office of the Auditor-General of our Republic was appointed under My Administration. Mrs Nancy Gathungu, appointed in 2021, continues to serve the Republic in that capacity,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta.
He further said that apart from working with women leaders occupying high profile portfolios in his Cabinet, at different times and capacities, he felt honoured to be the first President of the country to commence an address with the salutation, Madam Chief Justice. This followed assumption of office by Hon. Lady Justice Martha Koome, the first female Chief Justice.
“If our women were part of the liberation struggle, advancing their course intentionally is a duty we owe them and ourselves as a country. And I am, indeed, proud to have been part of this push for women leadership in our Republic,” President Kenyatta noted.
The 2010 Constitution has seen an increase in the election of women in male-dominated seats like governors and senators. This year’s General Election has also seen three male presidential candidates settle on females as their running mates, increasing their chances to shatter the glass ceiling by assuming the second-highest office.
The three are NARK Kenya party leader Martha Karua, communication expert Ruth Mucheru Mutua, and master’s degree and bachelor’s holder Justina Wambui Wamae.
The win of any of them is pegged on who will be the fifth president out of Azimio presidential flag bearer Raila Odinga, the Agano party presidential flag bearer, David Mwaure Waihiga, and Roots party flag bearer Prof. George Wajackoyah respectively.
Featured: Hon. Beth Syengo/ photo by Tebby Otieno