“I had a vision to be a member of the County Assembly of Meru not because of the money but because I had mission to take the women agenda forward.”
These are the words of Lucy Mukaria the chairperson of the Meru Women Legislative Association (MEWOLA) who believes that leadership is about goals and the ideals of the community. She says that despite the societal barriers, women must rise up and take up leadership positions; be it elective or appointive.
As a young widow, she deserted her in laws and matrimonial properties taken away and left without any support. She was left without a penny to fend for her three children. What was so agonising to her was the cultural stigmatisation that widows went through in the village; they are taken as outcasts.
“When I started living as a single woman and with no much support, the thought of the other widows crossed my mind. What about the single mothers that were not working? What about women in the community whose lands are taken away by the elders or clan and never made to be part of the decision regarding the community or their families? I asked myself why women aren’t getting opportunities like men? ” She explains while noting that the disparities are as a result of the imbalanced power relations.
In Meru County where Mukaria ails from, women are disadvantaged when it comes to land ownership. This is despite the progressive and robust legal frameworks on land ownership in Kenya; a clear indication on the of the non-balanced power dynamics and cultural inequality when it comes to land allocations between men and women. This inequalities are also transited to the political governance even at the village level up to the highest governance levels.
“These experiences however put me at a better place in understanding the challenges women go through. All these are not ‘women issues’ but societal issues,” she says.
For Mukaria, the Constitution of Kenya 2010 was a game changer towards the right direction. Its provisions on the two-thirds gender principle was a step forward in pushing the equality agenda which for a long time has been underpinned by patriarchal systems where political engagement has for a long time been dominated by men.
Her leadership journey has been on the glimmer for decades; she started off her career in the civil society but the climax she says is when she got involved in the The Katiba Sasa! Campaign during the clamour for the CoK 2010. The campaign advocated for the speedy enactment of the constitution to ensure a free governance space. This placed her at a position to engage with the governance system and penetrate through the party structure.
As a figure that was now well known and recognised in the civil society as well as the grassroots political arenas, she got elected to be the Councillor of the then Meru Municipal Council in the old constitutional order.
“I made a name out of the campaigns. I was known for social justice but I wanted more than just the connotation of ‘flower girls’ for women leaders. Coming into the County Assembly of Meru in 2017, she galvanised the support of other 23 women to form a caucus that would ensure that the operations and policies enacted by the County Assembly are engendered,” says Mukaria.
She adds: “As women we must know how to manoeuvre through political spaces, for me one of the best strategy I ever made in during the 2017 general elections was to align myself with a political party. I got to understand what how the political party systems work. I made male politicians my alias and even though I lost in the elections, I was specially elected to sit at the Assembly based on my track record.”
With the technical support from CREAW through the Wajibu Wetu project, Mukaria and other female MCAs under the banner of the MEWOLA developed a Strategic Plan with an aim to champion and advocate for gender sensitive policies at the county level.
Through the MEWOLA, the MCAs will continuously advocate for stronger women movements to champion for equality in development processes