Language, gender and power: Lexicalisation of women in the national assembly and other top political posts in Kenya (2013-2017)


Norah Atambo
Emily Ogutu
Elizaphan Kiguru


This paper examines, from a linguistic perspective, the lexicalisation of the Kenya National Assembly women politicians and women in other top political posts by newspaper opinion articles. Every instance of language is a reflection of the prevailing discursive and ideological systems in the society in which it is used. The use of language, and specifically, the lexical items, may therefore explain the power and gender inequalities in Kenyan’s National Assembly. The number of elected women in the National Assembly of Kenya falls short of the 30 percent 2010 requirement spelled in the 2010 Kenya Constitution. The objective of this paper is to describe how the lexical items used in newspaper opinion articles construct National Assembly women politicians and women in other top political posts in Kenya from 2013 to 2017. The paper uses Fairclough’s (2001) social-cultural and Van Dijk’s (2001) social-cognitive approaches to Critical Discourse Analysis. Being a qualitative research, data was collected through document reviews. The findings reveal that newspaper opinion articles utilize ideologically managed lexical items that construct women in the discourses of gender. The study concludes that the ideological management of language by the newspaper opinion articles is likely to curtail the political ambitions of women politicians in Kenya.




How to Cite
Language, gender and power: Lexicalisation of women in the national assembly and other top political posts in Kenya (2013-2017). (2021). Journal of Linguistics and Foreign Languages, 2(1).
Author Biographies

Norah Atambo, Department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages, Kenyatta University, Kenya

Dr. Norah Atambo is a lecturer with an experience of more than ten years in teaching and research. Her research interests are in Discourse Analysis, language and gender, politeness in language use and language and social media.

Emily Ogutu, Department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages, Kenyatta University, Kenya

Dr. Emily Ogutu is a senior lecturer with research interests in Discourse Analysis, Text Linguistics, Politeness in Language Use, Language Education and Language as Communication. She has more than twenty years’ experience in teaching and research.

Elizaphan Kiguru, Department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages, Kenyatta University, Kenya

Dr. Gatitu Kiguru is a lecturer with research interests in Discourse Analysis, Legal Linguistics and Language and Education. He has more than ten years’ experience in teaching and research.

How to Cite

Language, gender and power: Lexicalisation of women in the national assembly and other top political posts in Kenya (2013-2017). (2021). Journal of Linguistics and Foreign Languages, 2(1).



African Union, (2003). Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Maputo: African Union.

African Union, (2000). Constitutive Act of the African Union. Lomé.

Anderson, J., Diabah, G. & hMensa, P. (2011). Powerful women in powerless language: Media representation of African women in politics-case of Liberia. Journal of Pragmatics 43(10), 2509-2578.

Angela, G. & Mean, L. (2000). Language and gender. London: Psychology Press.

Atambo, N. (2019). Language, Gender and Power: The Discursive Construction of the Kenya National Assembly Politicians (2013-2017). Unpublished PhD Thesis: Kenyatta University, Kenya.

Austin, J. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barke, A. (2010). Manipulating honorifics in the construction of social in Japanese.Journal of sociolinguistics, 1467-9841. Newzealand:

Wellington. Retrieved from

Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. (1995). [online] United Nations. Retrieved from

Brown, P & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language use. Cambridge: CUP.

Brown, P. & Yule, G. (1983). Introduction to discourse analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Butegwa F. (1995). Promoting women’s political participation. In G. Reardon (Ed.), Power and Process: A Report From The Women Linking For Change Conference.Thailand, Banbury Road: Oxfam United Kingdom.

Charlton, S. (1984). Women in third world development. Boulder, CO.: Westview.

Charter of the UN (1945). Charter of the UN. In The United Nations and Human Rights pp.1945-1995. Department of Public Information, United Nations, New York 10017, 1995. ISBN 92-1-100560-4.

Childs, S. & Krook, M. (2008). Critical Mass Theory and women’s political representation. Retrieved from

Clinton-Rodham, H. (2003). Living history. Lonan: Headline.

Corbin, J. & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Elson, D, (2002). Gender justice, human rights and neo- liberal economic policies. In M. Molyneux and S. Razuri (Eds.) gender justice, development and rights. Oxford: OUP.

Epstein, M., Niemi, R. & Powell, L. (2005). Do women and men legislators differ? In S. Thomas & C. Wilcox, Women and elective politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing discourse: Textual analysis for social research. New York: Routledge.

Fairclough, N. (2001). Language and power. (2nd. Ed). London: Pearson Education Limited.

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis. London: Longman.

Fowler, R. (1991). Language in the news: Discourse and ideology in the press. London: Routledge.

Ghim-Lian, P. (2001). Political Women in Singapore: A social-linguistic analysis. In Women’s Studies International Forum. 24 (6), 727-736.

Gramci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks. (Q. Hoare & G. Smith, Trans.). New York: International Publishers.

Grice (1981). Presupposition and conversational implicature. In P. Cole (Ed.), Radical Pragmatics, pp. 183–198. New York: Academic Press.

Habermas, J. (1998). The inclusion of the other. Studies in political theory. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Habermas, J. (1977). Erkenntis und interesse. Frunkurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Habermas, J. (1977). Erkenntis und interesse. Frunkurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Hall, S. (1997). Representation: cultural representation and signifying practices. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Hall, D. (1995). African Platform for Action. Economic Commission for Africa: Fifth African Regional Conference on Women (1994) Preparatory to the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995): Ministerial Conference: 21-23 November 1994, Issues 1-2, Dakar, Senegal: UN.

IPU (2018). No change in overall average of women in parliaments despite increase in percentages of seats won by women in the 2017 parliamentary worldwide. Retrieved from

Kahn, C. (2016). Clinton expands lead over Trump to 13 points: Reuters/Ipsos poll. Retrieved from


Kamau, N. (2010). Women and political leadership in Kenya: Ten Case Studies. Heinrich Boll Stiftung: East & Horn of Africa.

Kariuki, D. (2015). Attaining gender equity for inclusive development in Kenya. Retrieved from

Kariuki, G. (2010), Women’s participation in the Kenyan society(An essay presented at 2010 CIPE Youth Essay Contest, with the theme, Women and Participation).The African Executive: Nairobi, Kenya.

Kasomo, D. (2012). Factors affecting women participation in electoral politics in Africa. International Journal of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences. 2(3) 57-63.

Kenya Ministry of Planning and National Development & Kenya National Economic and Social Council (2003). Kenya vision 2030. Nairobi: Author.

King’ei, K. (2001). Language, political communication and development: A brief analysis of contemporary Kenyan political discourse. In N. Shitemi & M.Noordin (Eds.), Kiswahili: A tool for Development - The Multidisciplinary Approach, pp. 99-103. Eldoret: Moi University Press.

Kivoi, G. (2014). Factors impeding political participation and representation of women in Kenya.Retrieved

Krauth, B. (2011). Notes for a history of the critical mass. Ritrieved from

Lacy, S., Riffe, D., Stoddard, S., Martin, H., & Chang, K. (2001). Sample size for newspaper content analysis in multiyear studies. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 78, 836–845.

Lakoff, R. (2001). Moral politics. How liberals and conservatives think. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-6-226-46771-9.

Locke, T. (2004). Critical discourse analysis. London and Newyork: Continuum.

Maathai, M. (2006). Unbowed: A memoir. London: William Heinemann.

Magalhaes, I. (2005). Critical Discourse Analysis and the semiotic construction of gender identities.Delta Magazine pp. 240- 263. Retrieved from, Retrieved on 16th January 2018.

Mettge, C. (1998). The portrayal of women in selected British newspapers. Munich: GRIN Verlag. Retrieved from

Meyer, (2001). Between theory, method and politics: Positioning of the approaches to CDA. In R. Wodak, & M. Meyer, (Eds.) Methods of critical discourse analysis: Introducing qualitative methods, pp. 14-31. London: Sage.

Ministry of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services (Nov, 2007). National Policy on Gender and Development. Nairobi: Republic of Kenya.

Muga, G. (2007). Why gender equity is still elusive in Kenyan politics. African Research and Resource Forum. Retrieved from

Nariyama, S., Nakaiwa, H. & Siegel, M. (2005). Annotating honorifics denoting social ranking of referents. In Proceedings of the 6th International Workshop on Linguistically Interpreted Corpora (LINC-05), pp 91–100, Jeju.

Nasong’o, S. & Ayot, T. (2007). Women in Kenya’s politics of transition and democratization, pp. 164-196. In S. Nasong’o, & G. Murunga(Eds.), Kenya: The Strugglefor Democracy. Africa in the New Millennium Series. London: Zed Books in association withCODESRIA.

Ndambuki, J. (2010). Discursive representation of women’s interests and needs in Makueni district-Kenya(Unpublished PhD thesis).University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Ndeda, M. (2008). Introduction. In N. Thendu, A. Kiaga, & M. Omondi (Eds.) Assessing gender policies in the East African region: Case studies from Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Nairobi: Starbright Services Ltd.

Ng’ang’a, L. (2006).Women are key to sustainable development in Africa. (e-book). Retrieved from


Njoya, T. (2008). The crisis of explosive masculinity. Nairobi: MEW

Nzomo, M. (2014). Women in political leadership in Kenya: Access, agenda Settings and Accountability.Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University of Nairobi, East and horn of Africa:Heinrich Boll Stiftung. Retrieved from>uploads > 2014.

Ogusanya, K. (2006). Ogusanya K. (2006). Women and Elections in African politics. Conflict Trends, 14-18.

Okello, C. (2010). The role of women’s organisations in enhancing women’s participation in politics in Kenya (Unpublished M.A. Thesis). Nairobi University, Kenya.

Pajunen, J. (2008). Linguistic analysis of newspaper discourse in theory and practice(Unpublished prograduation thesis).University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland. Retrived from


PRB (2013). World Population Datasheet.Retrieved

Rapley, T. (2007). Doing conversation, discourse and document analysis. London: Sage.

Reisigil, M. (2008). Analyzing political rhetoric. In R. Wodak, and M. Kryzynowski (Eds.). Qualitative discourse analysis in the social sciences, pp. 97-120. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

RoK, (2010). The constitution of Kenya 2010. Nairobi: Government Printer.

Rwanda, (2015). Constitute: Rwanda’s Constitution of 2003 with Amendments through 2015. Retrieved

Salter. S. (2000). Looking at the guys in sexist, demeaning ways. San Francisco Chronicle, A31.

Schmidt, G. (2003). The implementation of gender quotas in Peru: Legal reform, discourses, and impacts. The Implementation of Quotas: Latin American Experiences 42-51 (Workshop Report, Lima, Peru), Stockholm: IDEA.

Thomas, S. & Wilcox, C. (Eds.) (2005). Women and elective office. Oxford: Oxford University.

UN (2015). Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 5: Achieve gender equity and empower all women and girls. Retrieved from

UN, (2013). A new global partnership: eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development. The report of the high-level panel of eminent persons on the post-2015 development agenda. United Nations, New York, USA. Retrieved from

UN, (2007). Africa and the millennium development goals-2007 update. Retrieved from

UN, (2000). Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination Against Women. Retrieved from

UNECA, (1999-06). Implementation of the Beijing platform for action: Seychelles country report(African Regional Conference on Women: Mid-decade review of the implementaion of the Dakar and Beijing Platforms for Action, Oct. 1999, 22-26). Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Retrieved from”

UNFPA, (1994). Report of the international conference on population and development, (5-13 September A/CONF.171/13/Rev.1).Cairo. Retrieved from at:

UNIFEM, (2008). Progress of the world’s woman: who answers to women? gender and accountability report.Retrieved from

UN General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, (18 December 1979). United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1249, p. 13. Retrieved from

UN & UN. (2004). Millennium Development Goals: Progress Report. (Place of publication not identified): UN Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs.

UN Women (2017). Women in politics 2017 map. Retrieved from

UN Women (1995). The Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China-September 1995. Action for Equality, Development and Peace.Retrieved from

USAID, FIDA & NDI (2013). Key gains and challenges: a gender audit of Kenya’s 2013 election process. Retrieved from

Van Dijk, T. (2006). Discourse Analysis as Ideology Analysis. Journal of Political Ideologies 11(2): 115-140.

Van Dijk, T. (2001). Multidisciplinary CDA. In R. Wodak, and M. Meyer (Eds.) Methods of critical discourse analysis: Introducing qualitative methods. London: Sage.

Van Dijk, T. (1997). Discourse as interaction in society. In T. Van Dijk, (Ed.) Discourse as Social Interaction. Discourse Studies: A Multi Disciplinary Introduction,2,1-37. London: sage.

Wanjohi, N. (2003). Women have to vie for role leadership. In The East African Standard. Nairobi

WiLDAF-Ghana, (2010). Analysis of affirmative action policy for women’s participation. Women in law and development in Africa. Retrieved from

Williams, T. (2007). The textual construction of femininity in women’s fitness magazines(A PhD thesis presented to the University of Texas at Arlington).Retrieved from

Wodak, R. (2001). The discourse-historical approach. In R. Wodak, and M. Meyer (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse analysis: Introducing qualitative method, pp. 63-94. London: Sage.

World Bank, (2018). Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. Inter-parliamentary Union [IPU] https://data://

World Bank, (2001). Engendering development: Through gender equality in rights, resources, and voice. New York: Oxford University Press.

WSSD, (1995, 2000). World Summit for Social Development: The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action. New York, United Nations.

Wundsam, T. (2016). Language, gender and politics. Retrieved from