Challenges facing women's participation in elective politics in Gwassi Constituency, Homa Bay County, Western Kenya

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The purpose of this study was to explore the economic, cultural and educational challenges facing women's participation in elective politics in Gwassi Constituency. It specifically assessed the influence of income, level of education and values, ideas and practice. defining gender relations on women's participation in elective political events and processes like voting, contesting for a political seat and taking part in the campaigns. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research design was employed in the study. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews, key informant interviews and focus group discussions. Quantitative data were analysed with the aid of SPSS for windows and results summarised using tables and graphs. Qualitative responses were analysed thematically and results harmonised with those of the descriptive aspects. Findings indicate that the women of Gwassi face a variety of challenges with regard to their participation in elective politics. These challenges border on their overtly low level of education and highly patriarchal orientation of the society in which they live. Due to low level of education in the constituency, a vast number of women are unable to access employment opportunities that would enable them acquire financial resources needed for key political processes. This situation is made worse by the fact that for a majority of households in the constituency, the decisions and actions of the female lot are to a large extent dictated by the heavily patriarchal idiosyncratic positions and circumstances of their male partners, a classic masculine cultural condition that is still very strong in the Constituency. However, qualitative data strongly indicate that balancing attendance of political events like open field public campaign rallies and securing their livelihood needs is an anathema to many women. This raises the possibility that income reinforces low participation in elective politics through intermediary factors like education and ability to anchor the resource base needed for the inherent processes. On the basis of these findings, it is concluded that economic, cultural and education factors impose fundamental challenges on participation of women in elective politics in Gwassi Constituency. In particular, low level educational attainment by the mass of women constituents, limited income generating opportunities and persistence of male dominance in the control of resources and power structures in this society are critical impediments to effective participation of women in elective politics. The study, therefore, recommends design of appropriate policies and programmes for promotion of women's participation in politics.

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