Omar is native to Lamu, a conservative area near the Somali border, famous for its preserved Swahili culture and for being a UNESCO Heritage Site.
“If we want to address the challenges that we face as women, youth and Indigenous communities, we have to take the political battle as well,” she told CNN.
At 39, she is the coastal province’s first female candidate for a higher office. She is among a record number of women running for office in the August 9 general elections in Kenya.
She says she’s running for a position as a natural evolution after seven years of providing “first aid solutions” For poor health care.
“The ability to really dig our teeth into the root causes of rural challenges is definitely what drove us into politics,” Omar says.
But she faces an uphill battle.
But this election could be different.
‘Kenya is ready for women at all levels’
If opposition leader Raila Odinga wins, Kenya could have 64-year-old Martha Karua’s first female vice president.
When she ran for president alone in 2013, Karuwa received less than 1% of the vote, coming in sixth after five men.
In the 25 years since a woman first ran for the presidency of Kenya, this has been the closest seat to the highest seat.
The former Kenyan minister of justice told CNN, “This question suggests that women should not be at the polls, because I’ve never had a question as to whether Kenyans are ready for another male. So this question in itself is discriminatory.”
“I think Kenya is ready for women at all levels.”
Her candidacy revitalized Odinga’s campaign and excited many women, some of whom compared her to US Vice President Kamala Harris.
During her three decades in Kenyan politics, Karuwa has earned a reputation as a political principle and the nickname “Iron Lady” – a moniker she hates.
“This name speaks of misogyny within society. Power is not seen as female, power is seen as male,” Karu told CNN, noting that it was first used to describe former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who came to power in 1979.
“It talks about misogyny and the patriarchy that rules the world,” she says.
Systematic exclusion of women
Although the number of women entering the political sphere in Kenya has increased over the years, only 23% of the seats were held by women in the last parliament. This includes the positions of actresses reserved exclusively for them – 47 of the 349 seats currently reserved for women for this position.
“We are seeing more and more women running, which tells us that there has never been a problem with women wanting to be involved in politics,” says Marilyn Camoro, an attorney and writer on women in politics. “It remains a problem of the systematic exclusion of women.”
This exclusion includes financial barriers to competing in expensive campaigns that can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and systematic violence against women candidates and even those who actually hold office. For example, in 2019, a Kenyan parliamentarian was arrested for slapping a female colleague and calling her names.
“It cools the environment for women, it makes women think again, and take a step back,” Camoru says, considering running for lower positions or giving up their campaigns altogether.
“We’ve been subjected to a huge, staggering character assassination, to the point of discrediting the work we’ve been doing with the safari doctors, but we try not to let that distract us,” Omar says.
She laments the publicity used against her at the race, including taboo accusations such as being a gay “recruiter” or a drug dealer to derail her campaign.
“There are certain cultures that don’t even give women the right to keep their voter cards, so you need the man’s permission,” Amdani said. She added that negotiated positions in which the elderly decide who will run for office are also detrimental to women and they are “more common than you think”.
Despite barriers to political office, Kenyan women persist. “As long as we remain non-negotiable players, the system has to accommodate us,” Camuro said.
long term campaign
While everyone CNN spoke to in Lamu was aware she was running, some men felt she was putting pressure on her weight and should have contested a less powerful parliamentary seat at the county level.
But Constance Kadzu, 24, the owner of a small grocery store, told CNN she was inspired to see an indigenous Swahili woman running for a loft seat.
“I vote for her because she is the only woman who is brave enough to face men and I know she will fight for us.”