Even though women make up 60% of the country’s registered voters, political representation is largely dominated by men. Even with the current parliament comprising 19.5% of women, there is an urgent need for increased women’s participation in decision-making and political processes.

Vihiga County in Western Kenya mirrors the same image with only one elected woman leader. Female political aspirants are faced with issues like attacks on their character and sexuality, electoral violence and retrogressive cultures that keep them away from politics. Issues such as lack of financial resources, a patriarchal & retrogressive culture, and electoral violence keep qualified women away from politics. Female political aspirants are also edged out by corrupt tendencies where the electorate only votes for the leaders who give them handouts.

To change this narrative, and leveraging on our expertise as a leadership incubator, Akili Dada runs a Political Aspirants program which is building the capacity of young women political aspirants to enable them to vie successfully in the next general election and to engage in decision-making spaces and to lead differently.

Akili Dada convened a Dada Dialogue in the county that sought to identify and address issues affecting the community as well as a discussion on civic education. The forum was organized by a Member of County Assembly (MCA) aspirant Florida Angila Ashitua and also served as an opportunity to present her candidature to the people of Central Bunyore. Florida is one of the young women who are in the Political Aspirant program.

The Vihiga Dada Dialogue that was attended by 164 women, had an overriding theme of ‘Sera si Sura’ translated to Policy, not Image and was facilitated by Akili Dada and the Ecumenical Centre for Justice and Peace.

Dada Dialogues are forums that Akili Dada hosts in various counties to encourage conversations on various issues through the lens of young women from various backgrounds including university students, young professionals and young women living in informal settlements. These dialogues invite scholars, lawmakers, and implementers to broaden the community’s knowledge base so that they can participate in various discourses in the country and beyond. They also contain a  civic education component that seeks to educate women in the counties on electoral processes and devolution.

Dada Dialogues are also spaces for the young women in the political aspirant’s program to present their candidature and make a case for their political aspirations. The dialogues are organized by the young women in the Political Aspirants program in their counties.

The Vihiga Dialogue begun with the women identifying the challenges affecting their communities as poverty, insecurity as well as high rates of school dropouts.

One of the ways identified to address these challenges was through the county leadership and thus the women outlined the values, virtues and qualities for good leaders who would bring about change in their communities. They said that their ideal leader is one who is transparent and accountable, respects human dignity, embraces inclusiveness, is a visionary, and one who fosters national unity and social justice. In line with this, the women were able to identify the roles of elected leaders with the President being responsible for leading the country while the Member of Parliament is charged with formulating national laws. The women representatives, on the other hand, are meant to champion for women’s issues in politics while the Members of County Assembly (MCA’s) make County laws as well as lead County development.

 Political Participation

Another key learning for the day was the rights of citizens in political participation. The women were urged not to ask for bribes so as to participate in public forums but do it gladly with the goal of developing their constituency and country as a whole. In the same vein, they were informed that the constitution does not have a monetary allocation for public participation.

The women then agreed to vote for leaders who unite people and communities as opposed to those who harbor hatred to neighbours. They were also urged to keep abreast of development projects in their localities by keeping in touch with government offices and being keen on how those projects can benefit them. The facilitator reiterated that devolution brought decision-making closer to the people and that they should utilize it to the maximum. They should participate in public barazas as opposed to blaming the government when things go wrong remembering that the citizens also have a role to play.

 Vote the leader and not the party

The women also went through the importance of registering as voters and confirmation that all details are correct as well as the correct way to mark the ballot paper. They agreed that it was important to vote for a specific leader with sound policies who will serve them as opposed to restricting themselves to the one fronted by their party of choice.

Vote for the leader and not the party. ‘No six-piece voting’. The facilitator reiterated that there was need to elect visionary leaders who would further the development agenda, “We need leaders that have a plan of action, not smooth talkers with no agenda,”  she said.

Akili Dada and the Ecumenical Centre for Justice and Peace handed out voter education materials that will guide the voters on ways to determine the good leaders as well as their rights as voters and the correct way of voting.

The dialogue was also an opportunity for Florida Ashitua to present her candidature to the women in her constituency. She began by acknowledging Akili Dada’s support and training in embracing right leadership virtues and urged the electorate to vote her as the MCA as she would address issues affecting the community like insecurity and also speak for the women and youth.

The dialogue was also attended by an aspiring Governor, Hellen Tolo and the area chief.

Other Dada Dialogues have been held in Kwale County, Mombasa, Isiolo, Bomet and Nairobi (Kawangware) Counties.