By Nyambura Mutanyi
When we young people think about politics, it can sometimes feel like the barriers to entry are insurmountable. The route to political power – party politics, student politics for example – can feel especially inaccessible for young women. I suggest that we re-imagine politics, and what it means to be involved in politics as a first step to jumping into the fray.
It’s easy to think it impossible for women to engage in successful politics at the national level but come to think of it, women have long been ready for politics as is evident in the daily activities they engage in. But first things first.
If we think of politics as it’s presented in the Merriam Webster dictionary – the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy – then some of us have half the work done. How, you ask? Well, in all the ways young people are guiding and influencing policy, and more importantly, other people.
Are you in a chama? Are you its chair, its secretary? You are already exercising the skills you’d need in politics. Leadership is a key part of the political process; one needs to be a leader to get the work done, to influence people towards a certain way of doing things. That chama is key to you flexing that muscle, so stay active in it.
Youth is a pretty large category (18-35 years), but this next one is for those young enough to be in youth groups in their neighbourhoods or in religious institutions. Those of us in youth groups know they are an exercise in managing personalities and resources and this is exactly what politics is. Think about it: an elected person has to manage the expectations of people of different ages, social status and so on. If you’re already in a leadership position in your youth group, you’ve probably been elected to your post. You have the skills you’ll need in a political race.
If you’re a young woman in a women’s group or a self-help group, you’ll be familiar with not just dealing with each other, but also with interacting with people outside the group who influence its activities – banks, conferences, grant-making organisations and so on. Politics is more than just managing resources and people within your organisation – it also requires reaching out to those outside your party or your country.
But none of these places have the violence or antagonism that politics present for us as young women. These places may be argumentative, but our lives and reputations are not threatened; you know this is not an uncommon occurrence in Kenyan politics.
I’ll admit that it’s a jungle out there for women seeking political office but I offer this: young women have the tools they need to take part in politics. They know how to negotiate, to manage resources, to navigate myriad relationships, to round up support for various causes. Take these tools to the electorate in the years ahead; sharpen the saw actively.
It may feel like too little too late; the election is almost here, right? However, politics is the election and all the processes that get the work done between elections. Public participation processes, calls to comment on bills, policy-making events. The skills you’re acquiring will serve you well in these settings and put you in the rooms where power is negotiated. Hopefully, the next election sees more young people taking part in elective races.
Remember, you are already in organisations that give you leadership skills. Stay active in those groups, or join one if you haven’t yet.
This article is courtesy of Project Mchujo, running with the hashtag #ChujaSiasa