Our Interview of the Month with Lindy Wafula

Lindy Wafula is the Founder and Executive Director of Project Africa – a nonprofit organization established in Kenya to promote gender equality and empowerment of women. She is also a social entrepreneur and community organizer who is a passionate advocate for the advancement of women in leadership and decision making position in every social, economic and political spheres of life.

 Lindy’s commitment to the empowerment of women from the grassroot-up steered her into politics where she contested for the office of Member of Parliament in 2010. She was also elected to the National Executive Council of the Labour Party of Kenya where she is currently the Leader of the Women Congress of the Labour Party of Kenya (LPK). She also serves as the Secretary General of the Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA) which seeks to empower African Women politicians who subscribe to social democracy with tools for winning elections through training and mentorship. Lindy Wafula is aspiring for a parliamentary seat for  the Makadara Constituency  in Nairobi the  the  2013 General election in Kenya.

lindy_profileA champion for young women, Lindy Wafula has successfully spearheaded programs under the banner of Leading Ladies Circles to ensure the education, empowerment and engagement of young women in leadership. The Global Women Leadership Network recognizes her commitment to the inspiring challenge of advocating for the representation of young women under than 40 in political process in local, national and global levels.

In addition, The Nile African Development Organization recognized Lindy Wafula as one of the African women making a difference towards ending poverty. Her contributions towards achieving MDG 3- promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, earned her the prestigious 2010 African International MDGs Achievers Award.

Lindy is an inspiring and eloquent public speaker who has been featured in several conferences both locally and internationally including the Aspire Women’s Conference (London, UK), TEDx Women Conferences, Leading Ladies Conferences amongst others. She is also a TV Host to her own Leading Ladies Show.

 

  • In October 2010, the AU launched the African Women's Decade, What   do you think this decade represents for women in Africa? *What are you thought regarding this decade?

Following through  the  journey of  the  emancipation of women  that   the African  women’s  movement  has  journeyed ,  the African  Women  Decade  presents a new opportunity  for women  to demand  the  realization that  women  rights  are  human rights.  In my opinion,  African Women’s  Decade  should  not  be a time  where  African  women wait passively for  our male  counterparts to  agree to our  call for action  because  there lacks  political goodwill.  It is time for African Women to act. We must take action towards ensuring that legislation in its letter and spirit guarantees equal participation of women in leadership and decision making. We must take action to support  women to run for  election and appointive  positions  and we  must  take action to offer civic education  especially  to women  to understand   what the power of  the vote means for our collective  empowerment , peace, security  and  national  development of African states

  • What are the most pressing issues for women in Africa? And what are the primary actions to take in response to those issues?

There are a myriad  of issues that hamper  the  promotion of gender  equality   and  the  holistic  process of  the  empowerment of  women.  However, let me concentrate on the particular case of women participation in politics. First  and  foremost,  I believe  that in most  African  countries,  women  make  at  least   half of  the population  and also  the majority  of  voters  whenever elections  are called. But  there is  denial amongst  the  patriarchs  of our  political system  that women have the skills  and abilities  that   warrant their  equal  participation in  politics  and democratic  governance  of  African  nations.  These systems have created a culture that describes men  as destined to rule and women doomed  to servitude thus  alienating women  only  to the periphery.

The  primary  actions to take  in response to  this  inequality  in the political participation of  men  and women  is,  first  and  foremost ,  to secure  by  law  the  rights  of women to  vote  and  to  equal representation  in   political leadership and  decision making positions that  determine  how  democracy and  good  governance  must  be  realized  in  Africa.  Women have strongly and effectively participated in leadership   at the grassroot where   African traditions have defined as the  private space where  women  belong. It is  time  that more   women leaders  need to be  ushered  to the public  arena  where  national  issues  are  discussed and  public  policies  made not just  as bystanders  but as  equal stakeholders. After all  whatever decisions  are made affect women  who are  half  the  population.

  • Research reveals that whilst all African constitutions grant women the same civil and political rights to men, electoral systems and institutions lack effective means to guarantee women candidates equal access to political representation. What mechanisms you believe to be instrumental in strengthening women's constitutional rights to political representation at all levels (national/local)?

It is true  that  in some  African  countries ,  the  constitutions  grant women same  civil and  political rights to men. For instance in Kenya,  the Constitution offers  the   two thirds gender rule which  provides that  any  one  gender should  hold  not  more  than two  thirds (2/3)  of any  appointive  or elective leadership  positions.  However,  there  has  been  heated  debate  on how this  would  be  achieved without  infringing on the rights and privileges that  the same  constitution in other  of its articles gives to all Kenyans.

  • What do you see as steps to be taken in order to promote political participation of women in Kenya/Africa? And What are your thoughts on the gender quota system?

With the current constitutional framework in Kenya ,  more mechanisms other than the quota  system should  be pursued  to increase the participation of women in politics.   I am not  opposed  of  quotas  but I think  the quota system  should  be  a temporary  measure   to  catapult  women into  leadership Otherwise ,  a long  overstretch  of  quotas  do  women  more disservice  than good.  In  the spirit of   the African  women’s  Decade,  women  must  raise leaders from the  grassroot  and what  other  way is  best   than  to ensure  that  there is  an increase in  the numbers of women  that  engage  actively  in politics in democratic issue  based  political parties. If more women  are  active  within  political parties, then over time  women  candidates will naturally  emerge to run  for  elective  office or seek appointive positions based on merit.

In my opinion,  the  quota  system  currently allows political parties most  of which are  run with the control  and manipulation of  political godfathers  to impose leaders  instead  of allowing  a natural birthing of  women leaders from the  bottom of  political parties up to the  national  assemblies  and other national public service vacancies.  Investing in strong  political parties  that support  women participation in the  governing  councils and  support of women wings of political parties is  a long term process  but is it not  better  to let  women emerge  naturally as leaders  and  get  quality  than to impose  from the  top down  by nomination  only  to  get   women leaders who fall victim of  manipulations of  the  masters  that  nominated them to office?

Another  intervention  that  must  be undertaken  to ensure  equal  representation of women in politics and public service  is  governments  ensuring that  all elective  and appointive  hiring  processes  are  open to the public  thus  allowing transparency. In addition,  as far  as election and voting are concerned,  a leveled  playing  field  should  be  enhanced  by  not  allowing impunity of those  who break  electoral laws.  I believe  that  if the  lection playing  field is  leveled many women  are  up to the task  of  public service.

  • What are the main challenges for women's rights in Kenya and What is the major factor hindering women political participation in Kenya/Africa?

The challenges  standing  as  hurdles against women in politics  or those  aspiring for elective political office in Kenya  include; the  control and  manipulation of  patriarchal political  power  structures  that influence  political  party  nominations and primaries to favour  male  candidates,  negative  socio –cultural attitudes  that believe  the  place for women is  the  private  space of their  homes, electoral  violence  instigated against  women candidates,   high levels  of poverty  that allow tokenism  of   the  electorate   especially women  who  make  at least 50% of the electorate and  lack  of  finances  and other  resources  that would  allow  women candidates to organize effective  campaigns.

  • In many countries of the Global South and the Global North, politics and running for office is still associated with masculine traits, changing peoples perspective of politics and women's role with politics is key the key to transforming this association. Based on your experience as a   political candidate do you have any thoughts or suggestions on possible ways to address this negative exclusionary view of politics?

Women aspiring for politics  and public service  often struggle  to receive  legitimacy  in the eyes of  the media  and  further  the  public. Many times women politicians are held liable of the faults that their husbands and  children commit  yet male candidates are not held  accountable  by the same standards. The media and the public   ask women questions such as “now  that  you are  running for office who will take care of your family”? They also describe them in ways and words that emphasize the traditional role of women as  home makers  and care givers.  In Kenya, Like  elsewhere in the world,  the media and the general public  focus on  women candidates’ physical appearance,  dress code  and  use  words like  “beautiful”  when   addressing  women  candidates  and words like ‘ able’ to refer to male  candidates. As we approach  an election period in  Kenya,   politics  has  been  likened to a game  of  football   with the players likened  to male  top scoring  players  in  the European  football leagues. These are just a few examples of how politics by design takes masculine characteristics that stir a negative effect on women candidates.

I have  been  an advocate  for   women  in politics  and as  a candidate  I stand  on the  fore front  to correct  misrepresentations  that  I suffer  as a woman candidate.  For  instance,  in a recent event  held in my community to  promote  education in public  schools,  the Master of  Ceremony  introduced  me  as  the beautiful  candidate seeking   the elective  MP  seat  but when I got a chance to speak I  thanked  him  for  noticing my  beauty  but  explained   to the  Parents  gathered  that  I not only embody  beauty  but   embody  intelligence in my brain  with which I will use  to initiate impact oriented ideas   for  our  community  development.  At times, it is about taking the bull by the horns.

Men  must  be  encouraged to take  on traditional  roles   that  have  from time immemorial  been delegated  to  women such as  homemaking  and child care giving.   That way they will have more respect  for  home making as  a key  responsibility for the wellbeing of  families.

Women must advocate for the inclusion of equal household responsibility between men and women in the family law. May be  even encourage  paid  paternity leave  so  men can be  encouraged  to stay  at home and more women  to  venture into  public service.

  • Do you cooperate with other women/female candidates or network on   specific women's issues? do such women's group exist and is their role relevant

I am an  active  member of the Labour  Party  of Kenya (LPK)  which is  currently  under  the  leadership of  a woman,  Hon. Prof  Julia  Ojiambo. I am  also  the  Women Congress  leader  of  the  Labour Party of Kenya  and  given  the mandate  to ensure  that  women participate  actively  within our party structure  and  even nationally as they seek   elective  and appointive positions.

Nationally, I  am   proud to have  conceptualized  the idea to  mobilize  young women  under  40 to  engage  actively in politics.  Through the  Forum of  Young Women Politicians  (FYWP), I called on  other  young women  politicians   who had  the  experience of  running  for  office  that we may come together and offer  peer -to -peer mentoring to other  young women who  would  like to run for office  but  do not  know how  or where  to start.  I  also  host  Leading Ladies Brunches  that offer a platform for  mentoring  between  seasoned   leaders  in politics, business and civic society  and  young upcoming leaders.

At  continental  level, I  am  the Secretary  General  of  the  Women  Academy for Africa (WAFA)  This is  an  organization that  was established  by  women politicians  from Socialist, Social democratic  and Labour parties  in Africa   to  champion  the  participation of women  who  subscribe  to social democracy  in  politics.  WAFA draws members from Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.  We are committed to ensuring that women embrace the principle of social democracy and steer change by   working actively in making and influencing policy.  The Academy empowers women training and skills to run for office and win elections.

Finally  globally  I am a  member  of  the  Women’s  Democracy  Network (WDN),  Global  Women’s  Leadership Network (GWLN) and  the  Women  in Public  Service  Project (WPSP). I have  made it my  commitment  to  use  my  place  in these  organizations  to speak  boldly about the  need  to increase  participation of women in  politics  and  Public  service.

  • What kind of change do you hope to bring to Kenyan politics and particularly to women and girls?

My  personal  commitment  as I run for parliament to represent Makadara Constituency in  Nairobi county  in  Kenya  is  to engage  in issue based  politics. Key on my  agenda  is   the need to  promote  youth  development  and  women  empowerment  by creating opportunities  for  both the youth and women  who are counted as  the most  vulnerable e groups in Kenya, to access  education ,  employment,  health care, enterprise  development  and ICT for development and leadership.  Already  I  have initiated  community development  projects   the   aim to promote gender  equality, empowerment of women and  youth  development, Such includes  the Lady Mekanika  Project   which  provides  vocational training  in automobile  mechanics skills  introducing young women in a career  that has  long  been  dominated by men  I am also a  mentor to many  girls in my community  and  in the country   and I hope that  as  I run for elective office,  my life will  stand out to be   a  role  model  to the  girls  and  boys  in  my community  that   we  can  turn   our pain into power.  My campaign slogan is ideas, innovation, solutions, together.  I  believe in  a participatory   bottom up  approach  to   development  and  am empowering  my constituents  to  understand  that  a better  Makadara Community  will be built  by the contribution and  participation of each one of us.

  • What advice do you have for young African/Kenyan women who are also hoping to get involved in politics?

Well we  have  always  been  told  that  the youth are  leaders  of tomorrow  but  that  leadership journey   starts  today. Young women  must   come out  boldly, believe  in the  God given  abilities of feminine  leadership  and  get  engage  actively in politics.  This  is  how  I reason,  what  will Africa  be  like  if  the continent  will  be  led by  53 women  presidents? I think we  will see an  end  to war  and conflict,  end  to  corruption,  victory  against  poverty and  other  catastrophes affecting the continent  today.  It will take  young women  leaders  engage  in  politics  today  to change  the  state of Affairs  in Africa.  Power  will not  be  given to us  on a  silver  platter, we  must  fight  and work  for it.

 

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