The project

Kenyan women are not new to politics. They resisted British colonization and fought for independence as freedom fighters or political activists very early on.

And yet, few traces of their struggles remain: women have been largely put aside both in Kenyan politics and in Kenyan history. Upon Kenya’s independence in 1963, there was virtually no woman in politics. When we look at archival documents, 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. To answer these questions, this project will document the political ideas and objectives these women defended during their parliamentary campaigns and, for the happy few, once in office. Using archival documents (state archives, newspapers, personal archives) and oral history (interviews), the aim is to make women’s contribution to formal, national politics visible, even when they lost the election. Indeed, this project challenges histories that only remember (male) winners in African politics.

By looking for the Kenyan women who campaigned and won or lost, this project aims showing how complex Kenyan women’s long struggle for political power in national representative institutions has been. But there is more to it. This project also zooms out and retraces the first generation of African female MPs in the 1960s and the 1970s, thereby providing global perspectives on the early history of African women’s parliamentary power.

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!

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