Electoral violence a great impediment for Abagusii women leaders

Josephine Ombati, an MCA from Kisii County addressing a women leaders forum organised by Amjutine under the PIK project. [Photo:Ben Oroko]
Josephine Ombati, an MCA from Kisii County addressing a women leaders forum organised by Amjutine under the PIK project. [Photo:Ben Oroko]

Election times are normally very hectic, but for most women in Kenya it hardly brings in any joy. These are times when people get violent as the road to casting the votes gets shorter by the day.

However, even within this period, which could be the most intense of times in Kenya, it’s the question of violence against women that is most frightening.

It’s for this reason that women leaders in Kisii County are appealing to political parties and organs to put in place measures to curb electoral violence that is unleashed on them during electioneering periods.

Led by Josephine Ombati, a Member of the Kisii County Assembly, the women decried the perennial violence that has deprived them leadership and equal opportunities as guaranteed under the Bill of Rights in Article 27(2) of the Constitution of Kenya.

Challenges

Two years into the next General Election, the women are concerned that there is very little that has been done by political parties, Registrar of Political Parties and Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to allay their fears.

These sentiments were raised by women leaders at the Kisii Cultural Hall, during the Kisii County Women Leaders Forum organized under Peace Initiative Kenya (PIK) project by the local implementing partner organisation Amjutine Children Care and Protection Centre, commonly referred to as Amjutine. The PIK project is being implemented in the nine counties under the leadership of International Rescue Committee (IRC) with the support of USAID.

According to Christine Opanga, Amjutine’s Programme Coordinator, the meeting was held to discuss challenges and successes women leaders have faced in terms of addressing Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Kisii County.

“The meeting was also looking at the way forward in terms of addressing GBV especially with women leaders,” explains Opanga.

Dominance

She notes: “We were also mapping out women in leadership and the challenges they face in terms of ensuring how the two thirds gender principle works.”

According to Opanga, the political leadership in Kisii is dominated by men with only one woman having been elected out of the 45 wards.

“We are worried because women Members of the County Assembly have been nominated and they face a lot of challenges in addressing gender policies,” notes Opanga. She observes: “They are not allowed to raise any gender issues and are threatened with revoking of their nomination any time they try to speak about women’s issues in the assembly.”

According to Ombati, women have not made it into political leadership because of the violence experienced during election periods which suppress women candidates from discovering and realising their leadership potential.

“The violence also blocks them from exercising and enjoying their constitutional right to compete favourably for various elective positions,” notes Ombati.

In the 2013 General Election, which was the first poll under the new Constitution, discrimination against women was evident despite constitutional entrenchments calling for freedom from inequity.

“Gender bias was evident in the parliamentary and county assembly elections where all the 13 parliamentary seats in Kisii and Nyamira counties were scooped by men,” observes Ombati.  Looking at the 2017 polls, Ombati challenges male candidates and their supporters to be tolerant when it comes to political competition.

Threshold

She notes that violence against women is a major obstacle to Kisii County’s realisation of the two-thirds gender principle.

“Besides the affirmative action principle in the Constitution, the only option left for women in this county to realize equity is to have as many women as possible offer themselves to contest in the various elective positions,” Ombati notes.

She observes: “They must be given a fair chance and an opportunity to articulate their leadership vision for the electorate they intend to represent.”

Ombati reiterates: “Women must also have free access to the electorate and be assured of their security and safety during campaigns.”

Ombati regrets that Gusii culture exposes women political candidates to serious challenges ranging from negative stereotyping to electoral Gender-Based Violence.

“Even if they manage to win their political party nomination tickets, the community’s culture, which does not appreciate women’s political leadership, becomes an impediment for them to win various seats at the polls,” says Ombati.

Aspirants

“I am appealing to various stakeholders to ensure women from this community aspiring for political seats do so unhindered and are given moral support to pursue their political ambitions,” pleads Ombati. She reiterates: “The electorate must make informed choices through the ballot box without cultural or religious influences which deprive women candidates of their right to be elected.”

Ombati urges for a change in attitude and perception among the Gusii to allow both men and women equal opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, including political resolutions which affect the community.  

“I am challenging Gusii community to evaluate women aspiring for various elective positions on the basis of their leadership ability instead of judging them based on their gender,” observes Ombati.  

According to Sarah Manyara, a grassroots’ women’s leader from Kitutu Chache South Sub-County, women must use their limited resources to support fellow women candidates to ensure they compete favourably with male competitors.

However Manyara asked women to stand up for fellow women during campaigns and ensure they use their numerical strength to vote for women candidates instead of voting for men simply because of handouts. “It’s the handouts that have misled women to vote against fellow women,” Manyara notes.