Violence derailed women candidates in the just concluded polls

An elderly woman caught in Party primaries fracas in Kirinyaga County on 24th May 2017. Photo: Courtesy - Kenya National Commission on Human Rights
An elderly woman caught in Party primaries fracas in Kirinyaga County on 24th May 2017. Photo: Courtesy - Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

In the lead up to the General Election, scores of women candidates were intimidated and humiliated out of their political aspirations.

A report compiled by the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights (KNCHR) titled the Fallacious Vote, is replete with cases of women candidates who were targeted in a spate of attacks in a bid to dissuade them from continuing with their political ambitions.

According to the report, a female aspirant for Chavayo Ward on an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party ticket in Kakamega County was assaulted by her opponent’s supporters of and denied entry into her own home.

Her party agents were chased away from the polling station and some of her supporters coerced and threatened to vote for her opponent failure to which she would be killed.

In a similar incident Didmus Barasa who was aspiring for the Kimilili Constituency parliamentary seat allegedly drew his gun and threatened to shoot a female aspirant. However, he was restrained though the female aspirant was left shaken.

In Kieni West, the report reveals that Sheila Githaiga was forced to drop her bid for the parliamentary seat after she was trailed by 30 men riding on motorbikes and eventually attacked, her windscreen smashed by the thugs who told her to drop her bid.

Findings

In Mbita now Suba North Constituency, MP elect Millie Odhiambo’s house was burnt down during the party primaries. Her bodyguard was also run over and killed by a man driving an opponent’s campaign vehicle.

In Embakasi South, Eunice Wambui, an aspirant for the parliamentary seat was attacked while on a voter registration drive in Mukuru Kwa Reuben, one of Nairobi’s sprawling slums.

In Kirinyaga and Nakuru counties, female aspirants received printed messages meant to harass and intimidate to dissuade them from continuing with their political ambitions.

Esther Passaris, who is the Nairobi Woman Representative elect was held hostage at the University of Nairobi by a group of male students. The students demanded that she gives them KSh150,000 before she managed to escape. She was at the university to address the women’s welfare association.

A week before the elections, a meeting organized by the outgoing Nairobi Woman Representative Rachel Shebesh was disrupted after rowdy youth claimed that the meeting had been called to bribe ODM women in the county into supporting her re-election bid.

Impact

These cases typify the plight of scores of women candidates who had to grapple with electoral violence which in most cases reduces their capacity to effectively participate in political processes.

Osogo Ambani, a lecturer at Strathmore University School of Law points out that violence remains a major stumbling block that women have to surpass to effectively participate in electoral processes.

In a book titled: Gender Equality and Political Processes in Kenya, Ambani argues that although some women have braved these ills and proceeded to contest elections, the fear of violence which may be physical, sexual or psychological appears to perpetually haunt them.

“The prevalence of violence, therefore, means reduced capacity for marginalised groups including women to fully participate in political and electoral processes.”

A copy of a leaflet collected in Nakuru targeting a female aspirant. Photo: Courtesy Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

A copy of a leaflet collected in Nakuru targeting a female aspirant. Photo: Courtesy Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

Ambani notes that electoral violence increases the cost of campaigns, further complicating women’s already difficult situation.

He says that besides intimidating, deterring and humiliating female political candidates, the threat of electoral violence has forced most women candidates to fortify their security by taking measures such as hiring of bodyguards and purchasing of security gadgets.

“Such measures increase the cost of electoral campaigns, further heightening women’s political calamity.”

Additionally, to avoid falling victim to electoral sexual and gender based violence, female political candidates reportedly minimise evening political activities and reduce campaigns in volatile areas, measures that only benefit their male opponents.

Linah Kilimo, a former MP who once served as chairperson of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) notes that most women candidates have 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 assembly level

Outgoing Teso South MP Mary Emaase shares similar sentiments. Speaking after she lost in her bid to reclaim the seat during the August 8 polls, Emaase said that the campaigns and elections days were marred with violence. “My supporters were beaten and their vehicles damaged.”

Laxity

Josephine Mong’are, chairperson of the Federation of Women Lawyers ( FIDA) Kenya condemns the attacks on women candidates and adds that authorities have not done enough to protect female candidates, nor have security agencies responded quickly enough to incidents of violence. She says the inaction increases intimidation of women candidates and their supporters.

“Reported cases rarely get the proper response from concerned authorities who are mainly the police,” explains Mong’are.

She adds: “In the past, we have had cases of women attacked or abused during political activities but reported cases rarely get the proper response from concerned authorities, mainly the police.”

Election-related violence is common in Kenya. Following the disputed elections of 2007, youth allied to different ethnic groups launched a campaign of violence that left more than 1,000 people dead, and around a half a million people displaced.

Officials estimate that at least 900 cases of sexual violence occurred, with women being targeted on the basis of their ethnicity.

In early 2015, President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta announced a fund to provide “restorative justice” for victims but a 2016 Human Rights Watch report found that a vast majority of this money went to displaced people not to those who suffered sexual violence.