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Meet the Male Champions Supporting Kenya’s New Women Politicians

More women than ever before were elected in Kenya’s disputed poll. While the presidential candidates prepare for a rerun, female representatives are getting ready to serve in their new roles across the country, with the help of supportive men.

Written by Sophie Mbugua Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Veronica Muthoni (right) swaps notes with the former Laikipia minister of lands, Virginia Wambui. Photo by Sophie Mbugua

NANYUKI, Kenya – As Kenya gears up for a rerun of its August 8 presidential election, in which incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga are set to vie again for the nation’s top job, those people who were elected to parliamentary and local positions are getting ready to settle into their roles.

On September 1, the Supreme Court ruled that the presidential portion of the elections “was not conducted in accordance with the constitution, rendering the declared results invalid, null and void.” But the other results were upheld. And there are more women in leadership posts than ever: 96 members of county assemblies, 23 members of the National Assembly, three senators, three governors and 47 dedicated women representatives.

This marks an improvement from the previous elections, in which most of the women were elected through the position of the women representative, which is only open to women. The post was created after the High Court ruled that one gender could not make up more than two-thirds of any public elected body. But the parliament failed to enact the legislation before the 2017 election. The new National Assembly still falls short of its one-third female target by 41 seats.

Women politicians may not have had the full support of the parliament before the election. But many did benefit from the help of men in their communities who want to see more equal representation in the country’s leadership.

Men for Women Champions

Laikipia county, 160 miles east of Nairobi, is celebrating the first three women to be elected to the county and national assemblies: Catherine Wanjiku, Veronika Muthoni and Sarah Lekorere. In the lead-up to election day, a group of male community leaders made up of pastors, chiefs, youth leaders and professionals came together to mobilize support for these women.

“We are a movement of men – passionate volunteers committed to seeing more women in leadership positions in the county,” said Pastor Charles Njogu, the chair of Men for Women Champions in Laikipia county.

The movement, which began in 2012, identifies women who have shown an interest in politics and works with them to develop their manifestos.

“After we engage a woman aspirant, we conduct our research on how the voters view them, what the voters need from them and then we brainstorm with the aspirants,” Njogu said.

Veronica Muthoni is the new member of the County Assembly for Nanyuki Ward in Laikipia county. She praised the support she received from the male champions. “They helped shape my manifesto, helping me reach out and understand the community’s needs – better than I would have if I was I doing it on my own,” she said.

They also helped keep her safe as she campaigned.

Elections in Kenya are often fraught and can turn violent, most memorably in 2007 when 1,000 people died in the aftermath of a contested result. At that time, there were 900 cases of sexual assault.

There were no official records of sexual violence during or after this year’s vote, but rights activists say there are credible accounts that should be investigated by authorities.

On the campaign trail, women candidates were targeted for harassment, intimidation and abuse. One had her house burned down; another was briefly held hostage while trying to give a talk at a women’s rights event.

In light of the threats against the women candidates, male champions were trained to act as watchdogs and respond quickly to threats of violence.

“It was a grueling campaign, but [the male champions] accompanied me door-to-door, [and to] youth, men’s and women’s meetings, churches and campaign meetings and offered security during forums and political rallies,” Muthoni said.

“We form intelligence on the ground and neutralize any attacks planned before a forum,” Njogu said. “We also form a human shield during the meetings, as well as educating the communities on the dangers and consequences of engaging in gender-based violence.”

Human shield: Pastor Charles Njogu is one of Laikipia’s Men for Women champions. (photo by Sophie Mbugua)

Monitoring the Poll

GROOTS Kenya, a grassroots women’s organization, introduced the Men for Women championship model in Laikipia, Kiambu and Kakamega counties, with the help of the European Union, U.N. Women and We-effect.

“We are working towards a transformative leadership change within communities,” said Emily Maranga, the GROOTS Kenya women and leadership program manager.

GROOTS hired election observers who oversaw vote counts and recorded malpractice during the voting process. They reported some of the irregularities that may have led to the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the presidential vote, such as elected officials allegedly being resistant to accrediting female candidates and incidents of bribery at some voting stations, said Maranga.

Supporting New Representatives

Maranga insists the work isn’t over now that women have been elected.

“To have more women elected in future, the current ones have to perform,” she says. “We plan to work closely with the candidates and the men champions to ensure they implement their manifestos.”

“The men champions will work as the link between the elected leaders and the communities to ensure every promise is delivered.”

Kennedy Wambugu, a public health officer and male champion, believes it is time communities changed mindsets and embraced more women in positions of leadership.

“Gender equality needs be approached from a perspective of women and men working together globally,” he said.

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