Study exposes ugly face of gender violence in electioneering period

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Fifty year since Kenya attained her independence and with the country gearing up to set the 12th Parliament, violence in the electoral period remains a stark reality.

A new study shows, giving the state of the picture in relation to electoral violence also indicates why most women politicians are “invisible” in political contests.

The study by J. Osogo Ambani titled The Roots and Effects of Electoral Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV), confirms what most Kenyans already know about the link between electoral violence and sexual gender based violence as a phenomenon of electioneering.

Ambani highlights how the usual triggers of electoral violence have operated to bring about a general breakdown of law and order with the vice set in disturbing proportions.

Sexual and Gender Based Violence is noted to manifest during electioneering period as an opportunistic form of violence that exploits cracks in the pillars of law and order.

According to Ambani, a lecturer at Strathmore University Law School, electoral sexual and gender based violence has taken advantage of Kenya’s history of State-violence that has thrived in the context of major ethnic divisions, has benefited from perceived injustices on the question of land, and has also capitalised on the failure of institutions.

Evidence

The very existence of these causes is evidence of the stumbling blocks women have to surpass to effectively participate in electoral processes.

If the last General Election is anything to go by, women politicians have a long way to go in capturing more elective seats independent of the controversial two third gender rule entrenched in the Constitution of Kenya which is yet to be implemented for elective positions.

In 2013, FIDA Kenya did a Gender audit of General Election which indicates that only 16 out of the 129 women who vied for the 290 vacant parliamentary seats were declared winners out of a pool of 2,097 candidates on the ballot paper.

On 2013, only six women out of 237 candidates cleared by IEBC to vie for the gubernatorial. They all lost. No woman vied for the 47 Senator’s seats nicknamed “Nyumba Ya Wazee (House of the Elderly), out of 244 candidates.

Out of 623 women who vied for the 1,450 County assemblies’ seats only 91 were elected from a pool of 9,910 aspirants.

The study notes that ironically, sexual and gender based violence is compatible with war and peace because its root-causes are social, legal and cultural that disproportionately elevate the male gender.

Says Ambani: “Electoral sexual and gender based violence is capable of instilling fear in female political candidates, causing them to abandon their political aspirations.”

The study shows that the violence increases the cost of electoral campaigns, further complicating women’s already difficult situation. The ultimate result of it is the invisibility of women in political contests.

However, despite these challenges, the 11th Parliament boasts of 86 women in both National Assembly and Senate leaving Kenya ranked as 76 out of the top 100 countries in the World Classification of Women in National Parliaments.

Position

In Africa, Kenya trails at position 18 (19.7%) as far as women’s representation in Parliament is concerned. The top five are Rwanda (63.8%), South Africa (41.9%), Namibia (41.3%) and Mozambique (39.6%). The worst three are Nigeria (5.6%), Congo (7.4%) and Mali (8.8%).                                                                                                                                 Will the 2017 Genral Election be any different? The early warning signs are not encouraging.

The 86 women legislators include the 47 County Women Representatives (MPs), 16 elected MPs, five Nominated MPs and 18 Nominated Senators.

A 2010 study by Heinrich Boll Stiftung, a German international non-governmental organisation,  looking at women’s representation in parliament from 1963 to 2013 notes that only 16 women were elected in the 10.                                 Parliament, the highest in the country’s history.

In conclusion, Ambani notes that given the above findings, a proper solution to electoral sexual and gender based violence is therefore to seek a comprehensive answer to the challenges posed by the culture of state-violence. He reiterates the importance of mending the many historical inequities, especially on ethnic and gender grounds, to fix the land problem and revitalise critical institutions of democracy such as the Judiciary led by Chief Justice Charles Maranga, and the electoral management body Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), chaired by Wafula Chebukati.

So far the drums of war are already being heard around the 47 countries, and the media, especially the social media, is awash with politicians spewing hate speech and threats to their rivals. Some women aspirants have been harassed, called names and even denied the use of a microphone to address their supporters at public functions.

A former Marakwet East MP and Cabinet Minister, Linah Jebii Kilimo, the first woman to be elected in Elgeyo Marakwet District, before it was renamed and was a victim summed it up well saying: “Most women had to withdraw from seeking elective positions because of physical and psychological violence meted against them, resulting in less representation at the county and national level.”

Role models

However, all is not lost for women politicians as they have a long list of role models and political heavyweights who have soldiered on to learn from. These include Grace Onyango, the first Kisumu Mayor (1967) and Kisumu Town MP (1969. Onyango was also the first woman to be elected mayor and MP.  Dr Julia Ojiambo, former Funyula  MP and first woman Assistant Minister in 1974, Kitui County Women MP, Nyiva Mwendwa (former Kitui West MP and first woman Cabinet Minister in 1995), Prof Wangari Maathai (first African woman Nobel Laureate and Tetu MP), and Dr Sally Kosgei (first woman Secretary and Head of the Public Service in 2000, and former Aldai MP), former Kitui Central MP, Charity Ngilu (first woman presidential candidate and former Cabinet Secretary) and former Gichugu MP, Martha Karua (first woman Constitutional Affairs minister in 2010 and 2013 presidential candidate).

Others are first woman mayor of Nairobi City, the late Margaret Kenyatta (1970-1976) and Alicen Chelaite, in  Nakuru (1996-1997), she later served as Rongai MP between 2003-2007), former MPs Phoebe Asiyo (Karachuonyo);  Chelugat Mutai (Eldoret North MP), Marere wa Mwachai, (Msambweni and former Assistant Minister), Agnes Ndetei (Kibwezi and former Assistant Minister), Senator Beth Mugo (former Dagoretti MP and Cabinet Minister), Dr Hellen Sambili (Mogotio and former cabinet minister), Nyeri Town MP Esther Murugi (former cabinet minister), Kajiado East MP, Peres Tobiko and Mbita MP, Millie Odhiambo among others.

As women who have been nominated now hit the ground to solidify support, they should continue to believe in themselves and convince the undecided votes that they can make it.