Initiative targets to create violence free environment for women aspirants

Nominated Senator Ziporah Kitonny. She was in a group of Eminent persons manning the Women Situation Room (WSR) during the 2013 General Elections. The WSR is a peace-building project that empowers women to be the leading force for democratic and peaceful elections. Photo: Courtesy
Nominated Senator Ziporah Kitonny. She was in a group of Eminent persons manning the Women Situation Room (WSR) during the 2013 General Elections. The WSR is a peace-building project that empowers women to be the leading force for democratic and peaceful elections. Photo: Courtesy

Plans are under way to establish a Women Situation Room ahead of political party primaries in April 2017.

Already two organizations namely the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya and the Elections Observation Group (ELOG) have been named to steer the process.

According to Atsango Chesoni, the Women Situation Room at this phase aims to ensure the nominations are peaceful and that women and youth can play an active role in sustaining peace ahead of the August General Election.

“Many people in the country feel that the Women Situation Room should be operationalised earlier to cover the nomination phase which has in the past been marred by violence,” Atsango explained at a meeting held to discuss operationalisation of the Women Situation Room 2017.

She said the Women’s Situation Room at this phase will mainly focus on addressing obstacles to women’s participation to electoral processes, especially violence against women in all its forms that has been identified as a major obstacle to women’s involvement in political affairs.

Noting that many people feel there is a high likelihood of election related conflict during the electioneering period, Chesoni said the current conflict resolution and prevention mechanisms are inadequate to address election related violence.

Unlike in 2013, where more resources were channelled towards peace initiatives, the situation this year is different as resources are limited.

Initiatives

During the run-up to the March 2013 elections, several initiatives were set up to ensure a peaceful electoral process.  The Women Situation Room was among the selected initiatives largely due to its track record in other African countries as an effective tool in preventing and minimising electoral violence.

The structure was simple — consisting of a secretariat, election observers, a call centre, a team of eminent women leaders and a pool of experts. A secretariat was established in Nairobi before the Women Situation Room rolled out a series of activities and strategies that were implemented before, during and after the 2013 elections.

Five hundred women and youth were recruited and trained under the initiative as special election observers in areas that were identified as potential hotspots for violence, which included Nairobi, Kisumu, Naivasha and Mombasa. Using a toll-free, well-publicized telephone number, the observers reported to the Situation Room all incidents of violence or threats to peace that were happening across the country.

Eminent persons 

The Situation Room brought on board a team of Kenyan leaders and eminent persons from other African countries.  In another room, telephone operators took calls from election observers deployed across the country to monitor the hotspots. The operators recorded the time of the call and its nature, and then passed on the information to technical experts in law, media and political science.

The eminent women were Phoebe Asiyo, Zipporah Kittony, Betty Maina, Wanjiku Kabira, Rahab Muhiu, Tegla Loroupe and Jane Kiano.  They were supported by their counterparts drawn from the region, including Gertrude Mongella, a former Tanzanian minister and expert on gender issues, Miria Matembe (Uganda), Elizabeth Lwanga (Uganda), Turrie Akerele-Ismail (Nigeria) and Yvonne Chesson-Wureh. The only man in the team was Kiprono Kittony, a prominent media owner in Kenya who helped mobilize media support. Additionally, there were high-profile representatives from the Kenya Police Service and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Counties

Chesoni says that the Women Situation Room will this year take a new design to capture the counties. “We plan to establish focal points at the county level to address potential conflict at this level.”

She noted that the nature of violence was changing and, therefore, the design of WSR needs to take this into consideration and effectively address these changes.

The Women Situation Room is a peace-building project that empowers women to be the leading force for democratic and peaceful elections.

The concept of the Women Situation Room was initiated by the Angie Brooks International Centre to ensure women’s empowerment, leadership development, international peace and security during the October 2011 presidential and legislative elections and subsequent November 2011 run-off presidential election in Liberia.

The initiative has included a wide range of activities to ensure that women are actively involved in peace advocacy, intervention, coordination, political analysis, monitoring and documentation. Such efforts have contributed to securing peace and stability before, during and after elections across the African continent. Powerful peacebuilding platforms, rally women, youth, media, stakeholders, professionals, religious and traditional personalities and institutions to ensure a transparent and peaceful electoral process.