Suzanne Silantoi Lengewa is a trailblazer. Despite Kenya’s leadership in the region when it comes to women serving in political office they rank last out of all East African nations. Stepping up to run as a young woman in the largest city in Kenya — in a male dominated political culture nonetheless – takes a big dose of courage. Women who put their foot forward in politics face many obstacles – from sexist news coverage to having less access to resources to run their campaigns. The women who choose to move forward despite the unlevel playing field should be recognized and heard for their contribution to creating a more equal democracy around the globe.
The Global Picture
The World Economic Forum reports that the gender gap in politics is the biggest gap in existence, with 79% discrepancy between men and women in decision-making structures around the globe. Women having less access to resources to wage successful campaigns. They face the dual burden of balancing work and family, and rigid ideas about women’s capacity as mainly a caretaker perpetuates stereotypes among voters. In many places like Kenya, female candidates face a considerable number of security threats, including physical harm, intimidation and harassment, which deter women from taking part equally in the political process.
Nevertheless, when more women run for office, more women win. As a symbol of the growing recognition that women have more to offer in politics is Suzanne Silantoi Lengewa, a candidate at age 23. She is a communications professional who ran for office as Senator of Nairobi in the August 2017 election as an independent candidate. Until 2017, not one woman had been elected in Kenya’s history as a Senator. In an environment where the cards are stacked against women, stepping up to run for office as a female in East Africa is commendable.
Suzanne chose to run out of the desire to give young people – over half of Kenya’s population – more of a voice in Parliament.
“I know first-hand what it means to live in this country as a young person. I see hundreds of young people desperate for hope; the assurance that tomorrow will bring better fortunes than today and the desire to be who God made them to be. I heard of people who had changed their societies through the courage to step out. And it occurred to me that while I waited for the world to give me opportunities, the world itself waited for me to make a move. I was the change I had been waiting for.”
While Ms. Lengewa did not win her seat, she garnered nearly 30,000 votes on a grassroots campaign budget, establishing a solid social media following, and now serves as a more visible advocate for youth and women’s empowerment. And good news for Kenya, she’s decided she will run again!