In the last years, the fact more and more African women have been elected members of national parliament has been celebrated as an extraordinary and new success. Meanwhile, more and more countries have adopted gender quotas to ensure a fair representation of female politicians. The number of women in African parliaments has tremendously increased in African countries over the last decades and this achievement is extraordinary as African politics remain dominated by male leaders while women tend to be represented as being too weak to assume positions of power. Their success therefore entailed enormous political courage as well as many personal and even financial sacrifices.
And, yet, is this achievement really new? The political, economic, financial, cultural and social barriers hindering women’s representation in parliaments today (in early 21st century) have been well researched. But the history of the women pioneers who vied for a parliamentary seat once their country became independent has been largely unexplored. It is therefore fair to say that very little is known about the history of women’s fights for parliamentary powers. This project aims at precisely doing this looking at Kenyan history and filling the gap in the current knowledge about Kenyan women’s political history.
African women are not new to politics. They were essential actors in pre-colonial times, and while colonization disempowered them they were essential to the struggle for independent throughout the African continent. Upon independence, women fought to ensure they had a say in postcolonial politics. And yet, few traces of their struggles remain: women have been largely put aside African politics and in African history.
Looking at parliamentary archives, however, one thing is clear: there were a few women who dared campaigning for a parliamentary seat. To do so, they must have been very active in mobilizing supporters, spreading and defending their ideas in large rallies, going door to door at a time no one expected a woman to be so publicly politically active. Who were these women? Why did they campaign and what did they do afterwards? How can we document and write about their political endeavor? These are the main questions this project asks.
The project started in March 2023, is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and will last three years. Archival research, interviews, conferences and other activities will be conducted and of course, reported on this website!