Three women, three countries, three perspectives: Martha Karua, Marie Juchacz and Segolene Royal are political icons in Kenya, Germany, and France. What do their stories tell us about the women in politics?
The Giraffe and the Dik-dik
When you want to change something that you dislike, you basically have two options: either you walk towards it and confront it, or you walk away from it and change things from the outside. Women in Kenyan politics have never really been given enough agency to execute the first option. So Martha Karua chose the second - several times.
She walked out on Moi, she walked out on Kibaki, and more recently, she also walked out on President Uhuru Kenyatta. She gracefully demonstrated her protest in a way that she felt she could. “She has always stood up for what she believed was right even when it was unpopular with those in power. Unlike most men and women in politics, she is not a coward”, one commentator writes about her.
“Most Kenyan politicians see like a dick-dick [sic!]– their vision is limited to only a few meters. Rather than see like a giraffe – over the trees and into the distance – politicians are content to fight over crumbs even as the country sinks deeper into misery”, is another writer’s analysis of the difference between the likes of Ms. Karua and the political elite surrounding her.
It takes a strong voice and a brave heart to stand up to the male front row of politics like she has done time and time again. But have the victories of Martha Karua and other women done enough to pave the way for female candidates in the upcoming elections? Is Kenya ready to elect its first woman governor?
“Gentlemen and Ladies!”
The Social Democrat Marie Juchacz has just begun her speech before Parliament, and there is already giggling and murmurs going through the hall with wooden benches. The date is 19 February 1919, the 39-year-old has just opened the first speech of a female parliamentarian in Germany. The reason for the amusement of some is her address. "Gentlemen and Ladies!" – previously unheard of. For the first time in the history of Germany, 41 women are among the 423 delegates of the newly elected National Assembly that day.
In this year’s national election, four out of the seven established German parties will be led by a woman, or by a duo of a woman and a man. Angela Merkel is arguably the most successful German career politician in decades. Does this mean that gender equality has been reached in German politics? Far from it.
“The political parliamentary system we find now was born, shaped, and created by men, and we still see that. When women came to the political stage, they entered a system which was not only male dominated, but also created by men. Decision making processes and organizational structures of political parties are systems that women in Germany are not comfortable with”, states Dr. Iris Breutz who manages GIZ’s Strengthening Good Governance Programme in Kenya.
A Royal Rebellion
Senegalese-born socialist, Segolene Royal, was the first female presidential hopeful in France. Her story, like that of many women in politics, is one of rebellion: “One of eight brothers and sisters, Royal rebelled against her father, an army colonel, to gain her independence.”
"There is a strong correlation between the status of a woman and the state of justice or injustice in a country”, Royal said at her investiture speech in Paris in 2006. She has definitely felt these injustices in her own political career. Unlike her former life-partner, father of her four children and former French president François Hollande, she often had to endure jibes about her role as a parent, about her appearance, and her general ability to run a party.
Royal ultimately lost the presidential elections to a typical, macho old-school politician, Nicolas Sarkozy, who then went on to marry Carla Bruni, considered to be his trophy wife by many.
The Moral of the Stories?
What these three very different excerpts from political biographies have in common is that they show how hard it is for women to stand their ground in career politics. They will always be under special scrutiny for things that simply do not apply for their male colleagues:
Is her appearance too feminine / not feminine enough? Is she maternal enough / too maternal? Who is raising her children? Why is she not married? Will she be able to handle the stress of a political career?
In addition, women often face structural difficulties when entering into or progressing within a political system that was usually designed by men and is largely inhabited by men. Real politics is often made at the bar, as an old saying goes, and women traditionally don’t have the same access to these circles that men have.
Udada na Siasa – Women in Politics
These are just some of the issues that will be addressed during a joint theme week by Goethe-Institut Kenya and Alliance Française de Nairobi titled “Udada na Siasa – Women in Politics” from 26th to 30th June 2017.
Kenya, Germany, France: These countries will all be holding (or have already held) General Elections in 2017. This French-German project explores and compares the challenges encountered by women in decision making and political processes in the three countries.
Can a level playing ground for political participation across gender lines be achieved through affirmative action and women empowerment? Do women voters vote for women leaders? What role can the media play in challenging stereotypical narratives and giving coverage to success stories? Should the focus be solely on women – aren’t the men and patriarchal structures the problem?
The theme week will kick off with a panel discussion (Monday, 26 June, 6.30 PM, Goethe-Institut), featuring participants from all three countries. The title of the discussion: “Stand, Speak, Act, Vote: How To Empower Women for Political Participation”. Kenya will be represented by communications practitioner Pamela Mburia and grassroots women’s leader Jane Anyango, Germany by journalist Juliane Leopold, and France by media researcher Marlène Coulomb-Gully. The discussion will be moderated by gender and governance expert Jacqueline Oduol.
The Gender Forum with the Heinrich Böll Foundation will turn the tables around and look at the male influence on women in politics: “Men Lead, Women Follow. The Shackles of Patriarchy Across the Globe and Locally” (Tuesday, 27 June, 4 PM, Alliance Française).
How do female digital artists see and portray the issue of Women in Politics in their respective countries? Find out at the opening of our exhibition with artworks by Judith Darmont, Jepchumba and Sonya Schönberger (Wednesday, 28 June, 6.30 PM, Goethe-Institut and Alliance Française).
The final event in our theme week will be a participatory puppet theatre, put on stage by the team of Buni Media, producers of the popular XYZ Show. Using life size puppets, the show will examine attitudes and challenges that facilitate or hinder women’s participation using the power of narrative and humorous storytelling (Friday, 30 June, 7 PM, Alliance Française).
Your move, KoT!
The real life theme week is being complemented by Twitter discussions around particular topics in the three countries. From 26th to 30th June, our Kenyan Twitter chat will engage aspiring women candidates in the lead up to the August General Elections on their challenges and manifestos.
You’re welcome to join the discussion under the hashtag #ifsheiselected and the following handles:
@mwendesusu, @Goethe_Kenya, @ AFNairobi