The Making of Female Politicians: Gender Quotas and Political Subjectivity in Kenya Restricted; Files Only

Kilimo, Miriam Jerotich (Summer 2022)

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Implemented in over 100 countries, gender quotas are the leading reason for the increased presence of women in political office. However, few anthropologists have questioned this proliferation of gender quotas. This dissertation analyzes the adoption of gender quotas in Kenya, a country that introduced the policies through a new constitution in 2010. Using participant observation, interviews, and document and media analyses for a total of sixteen months between 2017 and 2020, I researched how quota legislation influenced the subjectivities of a section of its beneficiaries––nominated female members of county assembly (MCAs) in Kwale and Murang’a counties of Kenya. This dissertation demonstrates how gender quotas produce a monolithic image of female politicians founded on expectations that nominated MCAs will champion gender equality in the legislature. However, I posit that female politicians often eschew this expectation and build political authority by embodying diverse subject positions, from taking up roles as political mothers to acting as matrons who engage in transactional relationships with the public. While gender quotas frame female politicians as politically empowered women who will adopt an agency for resistance and challenge patriarchal configurations of power, this research argues that female politicians exercise an ‘agency for community’ to advance their careers. Their prerogative is to balance the demands placed on them by the community, NGOs, and political parties, rather than to pursue gender equality as envisioned by quotas. In exploring the ‘making of female politicians,’ the production of multiple subjectivities through which female politicians build political authority, this dissertation contributes to scholarship on African women’s political authority, gender equality, and law. First, by showing how female politicians use diverse subject positions to build their political authority, the dissertation pushes against their depictions as the pawns of political parties. Second, by demonstrating how female politicians engage in transactional relationships while urging the public to vote for women, the research illustrates how female politicians use informal mechanisms to push for gender equality in politics. Finally, by drawing on ethnographic insights from state actors within a county assembly, this project also shows how law within legislatures is used for political goals.

Table of Contents


1. The ‘Ideal’ Female Politician: Subjectivity, Agency, and Resistance      8

2. The Multifaceted Female Politician: Subjectivity, Agency, and ‘Community’    19

3. Contributions to Scholarship         23

4. Entering the Field  26

5. Outline of Chapters 39


1. Gender Quotas: Global and Local Histories         44

1. A Global History   46

2. Gender Quotas in Kenya   58

Conclusion     93


2. Mother, Wife, Kin: The Making of Female Politicians in the Community          96

1. Ethnic and Religious Constructions of Public Femininity 98

2. National Constructions of Public Femininity        123

3. Idioms of Kinship: Forging Routes to Political Authority 131

Conclusion     144

3. Legislation, Oversight, Representation: The Making of Female Politicians in the County Assembly    146

1. The County Assembly Life 150

2. Female MCAs in County Assembly Life  185

3. Making Law, Making Politics       193

Conclusion     198

4. Serve Women or Serve the Party? The Making of Female Politicians among NGOs and Political Parties         200

1. NGOs, Female Politicians, and Subjectivity         202

2. The Political Parties, Female Politicians, and Subjectivity           223

3. Between NGOs and Political Parties: Navigating Multiple Subjectivities 244

Conclusion     248


5. Matronage and the Limits of Gender Quotas        251

1. Transactional Relationships in Politics     254

2. Transactional Relationships in Kwale       257

3. The Limits of Gender Quotas        281

Conclusion     283

6. Constitutional Transformations and the Limits of Gender Quotas 285

1. Amending Kenya’s Constitution   288

2. Punguza Mizigo bill: reducing the economic burden of governance        289

3. Building Bridges Initiative: uniting the nation      299

4. Elusive Equality: The Consequences of Semantics and Politics   306

Conclusion     307

CONCLUSION         310

1. The Making of Female Politicians: Argument and Themes         311

2. The Making of Female Politicians: Contributions to Scholarship 315

Postscript: Vote A Dada!       320

REFERENCES          321

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