Of course I saw Joyce Laboso, and Esther Passaris, and Wavinya Ndeti; and some glimpses of Charity Ngilu, Martha Karua and Anne Waiguru. What I mean is that I didn’t see any woman politician defending party positions in any discussion panels hosted on any TV station during the 2017 campaigns – panels that Nanjira Sambuli, who leads women’s rights online and advocacy work at Web Foundation, and author at Daily Nation, has referred to as manels – or men only panels.
Even though I saw to some extent women politicians such as Wavinya, Laboso and Passaris in the course of the 2017 campaigns, I must set the record straight that the collective amount of time these women politicians appeared on our airwaves cannot even account for half the time a single male politician like Moses Kuria was given in our TV stations. As much as Joyce Laboso, Esther Passaris and Wavinya Ndeti were all vying for county positions (Esther Passaris will represent the interests of women in Nairobi County in the National Assembly), Moses Kuria who was given twice as much airtime was vying to be a member of parliament representing a mere constituency.
Moses Kuria can be excused because he is very controversial, but so is the outgoing Nairobi Women Representative Rachel Shebesh. In the course of the 2017 campaigns, I remember seeing Rachel Shebesh in Churchill Show where all the women vying for the seat of Women Rep had gone to have a ‘debate’ and during the Nairobi Gubernatorial debate but as part of the audience. No where else.
Many would agree with me that women like Rachel Shebesh of Jubilee and Gladys Wanga of ODM could be better at articulating their respective party positions at prime time shows like Kivumbi on KTN, Opinion Court and Monday Special on Citizen and Sidebar on NTV. These political discussion forums however were dominated by males from Jubilee like Ngunjiri, Ichungwa, Sakaja and Tuju of Jubilee on one hand and Magaya, Omari, and Sifuna of NASA on the other hand. That’s before you dissect the expert manels, but don’t go there as this article is purely focusing on women politicians.
If women were equally represented in the political discussion forums, then we could have known them almost at the same rate as we knew their male counterparts. As they say, you can’t buy what you don’t know, and when it comes to politics, you cannot vote for a candidate you have never heard of. For example, how many of you knew there was a woman called Ms Suzanne Silantoi Lenge who was vying to become the Senator for Nairobi county? I can count. I know there are those of you who saw her during the Nairobi Senatorial debate organised by NTV, but if I were to meet you in the streets and ask you to name the only female candidate vying to be Senator in Nairobi, I swear you wouldn’t have told me her name. You disagree, tell me then, under which political party was she vying? Don’t google.
The low coverage the woman have had during the 2017 campaigns is the reason African Woman and Child (AWC) as a partner with UN Women, has set out to tackle the obvious media discrimination against women during political campaigns. According to findings of AWC, women are not only given low coverage, sometimes as low as 16% of the time given to their male counterparts, but when given the coverage the question that is most likely to be up for discussion is the question of their domestic abilities rather than the value of their manifestos.
Over the years, the political players and policy makers have agreed that women face insurmountable challenges in the entire political process. These challenges have forced several countries to come up with legal frameworks to ensure that women representation in elective positions is increased. The Kenyan constitution for instance demands that at least a third of any gender must be members of the various legislative bodies namely the Senate, National Assembly, and the County Assemblies.
Despite the gender ratio being part and parcel of the country’s constitution, the leading political parties did not care to field as many women as men for the various elective seats so as to give the women equal chances of becoming governors, senators, MPs and MCAs. According to a recent data, women formed only 9% of those who were vying for various elective offices in the entire country. Most of these women, by virtue of low media coverage, have already lost in the just ended 2017 elections.
It is clear from the foregoing that the media has a very important role to play when it comes to empowering women and enabling the country to meet that constitutional threshold of a third of either gender being members of the legislative bodies. As it stands now, the country will be forced to nominate so many women into the National Assembly, the Senate and county assemblies across the country in order for these legislative assemblies to remain constitutional, a situation that you can rightly blame on the media.