Sunday, December 21, 2008



By Isaac Ongiri

This week, the two major parties, PNU and ODM, picked national officials in exercises that upset one group.

Women are crying foul over open bids to lock them out of the parties’ top organs. And to express their displeasure, they are planning a national conference to chart the way forward.

Leading the quest for equal representation in Government and parties is Gender and Children Affairs Minister Esther Murugi. She is spurred by events at PNU’s National Delegates Conference on Friday, when she was edged out in favour of a male politician for the vice-chairperson position.

Snack in the face
She was given a token position of deputy chairlady, women affairs (strategy), which she rejected and termed as a smack in the face for her and women in PNU.

"We are not happy, as women, of the treatment accorded to us by political parties, both the PNU and ODM. I want to challenge women in this country to rise up and fight for their space," Murugi said.

Public Health Minister Beth Mugo is said to have dropped her bid and supported Murugi for the vice-chairperson position. Both were shocked when a new list was read at the conference.

Other women politicians have supported Murugi’s sentiments. They say it is ‘revolution time’.

Former Karachuonyo MP, Mrs Phoebe Asiyo, warned President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka that women will not take any more empty promises.

To set the ‘revolution’ rolling, the National Council for Women says it will convene a meeting in January in Nairobi.

"This will bring together women delegates from all over the country to chart the way forward," said Murugi.

During the ODM convention at the Bomas of Kenya on Thursday, Assistant Minister Margaret Wanjiru led a protest after all tops seats went to male politicians.

"We could not take that, it is time the political class saw women as equal partners in leadership," Wanjiru said.

Her protests were supported by most delegates. This forced ODM to cut short proceedings to amend its constitution reserving eight more seats for women.

Party treachery

One vice-chairperson’s slot was created at the top leadership to accommodate the women.

"It is important that women are considered, not just in political party leadership but also in the public service, we should see more women PSs, more women ambassadors, more women judges, that is what a country like Kenya is expected to do," said Ida Odinga.

After the protests, Nairobi Metropolitan Development Assistant Minister Elizabeth Ongoro ran for the seat against Wanjiru, beating the Kamkunji MP in a vote taken by acclamation.

In the PNU polls, Murugi and Assistant Minister for Tourism Cecile Mbarire protested at what they termed as the party’s reluctance to accommodate women leaders.

"We must allow women to compete, we are not asking for free support, we are capable of fighting for our space, that space was not provided for in the PNU polls," says Mbarire.

Mbarire was cheered by delegates as she interrupted proceedings at the NDC, but this did not move the election board.

The Runyenjes MP had proposed Murugi (Nyeri Town) to oppose Kigumo MP Jamlek Kamau for vice-chairman in charge of research.

President Kibaki watched in amazement as the two women argued their case. The board declared Kamau vice-chairperson unopposed.

Yesterday, Murugi told The Standard on Sunday she had been short-changed as the agreement was that she would be allowed to fight for the seat on the floor.

"This is a very bad precedence, this argument that chama iko na wenyewe (party has its owners) is what women in whatever party they are in must fight."

The minister is now rooting for the re-tabling of the Affirmative Bill in Parliament.

"We have to fight for our space, I will support the retabling of the Bill as one of the steps towards women’s freedom in politics," she said.

Asiyo is challenging the Government to stick to the international agreement it signed, promising to allocate public positions to the marginalised.

"It is only in Kenya where you can be the majority and yet you are maginalised," said the veteran politician.

Change game
Asiyo urged women to go for top posts, adding the solution was not forming another party. She challenged men to learn from events in the neighbourhood.

"In Uganda 29 percent of MPs are women, In Tanzania it is over 30 percent and in Rwanda its 55 percent. ODM, PNU and ODM-K must stop pretending not to be seeing this change," she said.

Asiyo and Murugi urged women not to be used to fill lesser positions for reasons of convenience.

LPK Chairperson Julia Ojiambo also criticised the political leadership for exploiting women.

"They come out in style last year to lie to Kenyans about so many issues, now we all know they were lying and women must rise up to stop this dishonesty," Ojiambo said.

Marakwet East MP Jebii Kilimo, who is the chairperson of the Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association, says women ministers have done their job well.

"If you look at Martha Karua, Prof Helen Sambili, Dr Sally Kosgey and Murugi, these are success stories and no scandals have been heard about women ministers," Kilimo said.