By Catherine Watuka, Executive Director of WUSETE and iKNOW Politics Expert, Kenya
The lack of support for women leaders in political parties is related to the parties’ internal structures. Women have been voting for years but have they achieved actual political equality with men? NO. Women have fought alongside men in national struggles but when the franchise is finally achieved, their political interests and ambitions are left out in the cold. Women participate in the entire election process, vote, their votes are solicited for by politicians but are refused serious consideration, what they want or have to say, is regarded with very little weight. If parties refuse to open their doors to women, how will this under-represented half of the population, which has much to contribute to politics, become visible?
Women have no real influence in the formations of their parties. Attend any of the numerous political empowerment workshops for women and their experiences are practically the same. In small things they are listened to, but when it comes to asking for important things women generally find they are up against a wall. Take a close look at local and national committees, and the national structures of major political parties. When meetings are to be held and important matters are to be decided and ratified, women generally find things have been planned and prepared, without consultation with them. When they object they are overruled and reasons found to diplomatically and politely eliminate them. Coping with men in the major parties seems utterly hopeless.
In national politics, women have no voice or power whatsoever. Before general elections they will be told to organize their fellow women and asked to help in raising funds. But when it comes to discussing candidates and party policies, they are denied any share of influence in their parties. Yes, party leaders make statements indicating their willingness to take women into the high ranks of the parties, but in fact, the women who have run for any elective post will tell you they are excluded from any actual kind of important participation. They are called upon to produce votes, but they are kept in ignorance of the most crucial plans and affairs. Many women working in political organizations all over this country are unpaid, and they are so far only allowed to do the detail work which bores the men. While their votes cant be ignored and remains a critical factor in mobilizing campaigns every election, the individual women who are in party committees have no real power-back from women voters.
Truth is most male politicians dislike the idea of women mixing in politics, and that is why they continue to antagonise elected women and can be depended upon throughout their terms to keep women's influence negative. So how can women bring men leaders to concede to real participation, representation and equality in political party affairs? Women are today ignored mainly because they have no unity under representative leaders and a spokeswoman capable of dealing with these controlling groups of men. The hard fought gains will not remain in place if women don't keep vigilant. Voter ID laws, access to polling stations, campaign financing, ever-changing electoral technologies require a vigilant, nimble organization capable of protecting the interests of women during every stage of the electoral process.