Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Despite Threats, Women Play Large Role in East African Politics

Driven by a desire to change one of the most corrupt political systems in the world, Dr. Karambu Ringera is stepping up her campaign for a Kenya Parliament position despite verbal abuse and threats of violence. In an area never before represented by a woman, Ringera is also finding support from people who want change.

Ringera, who has a Ph.D. in human communication from the University of Denver and is founder of a nonprofit called International Peace Initiatives, decided to run after she spent days trying to get in touch with her member of parliament last year. No one knew where he was. "It was my frustration and anger in looking for someone in authority that caused me to run for parliament," Ringera told me.

With a government notorious for corruption and inefficiency, the 2007 parliamentary and presidential elections have given Kenyans a chance to challenge the priorities of the current administration, which has failed to tackle the poverty, unemployment, and disease that most Kenyans face day to day.

In searching for a solution to the nation's problems, some Kenyans have turned their attention to an entire gender. This election, there are more female candidates than have ever run before in Kenya's history.
In September, another female candidate in Kenya was beaten with an iron bar and forced to swallow feces outside of her home in Meru.
Given all this, it might be hard to believe that East Africa is thought of as a pioneering region for women's political participation. In Rwanda, women hold 49 percent of the seats in parliament, the largest percentage of women in government of any country in the world. (In the United States, only 16 percent of members of Congress are women.)

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