East Africa - The Fight for Gender Parity

By Nanjala Nyabola

For women across the world, electoral politics can be a hostile and violent place. Writer Nanjala Nyabola investigates the parliamentary quota systems in East Africa, demonstrating how well they can work when supported with institutional will and how resoundingly they can fail when the patriarchy conspires to undo them.

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Wangari Muta Maathai, Nobel Prize winner and former Kenyan MP – Photo: The Time Line

NAIROBI, Kenya—When Bina Maseno was 23, she decided to run for Council Assembly in Nairobi City County and reached out to a few experienced female politicians for advice. She expected to hear suggestions for navigating party power dynamics or articulating campaign messages for a broader audience. But what she got was a primer in protecting herself from sexual assault by male politicians and putative voters.

“I was shocked,” she recalled. “One woman told me that I had to dress in a matronly way, because voters always think that youthful looking women are sleeping their way through the party. Another woman advised that I should never go to a rally without wearing biker shorts underneath my clothes, because inevitably the men in the audience would try to strip me.” During Maseno’s 2012 campaign, this latter piece of advice was repeatedly tested and found to be accurate.

For wom

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