Women representation in Kenya has been low because of what they claim as violence, threats and intimidation. Many women have withdrawn from elective political races because they have received threats, have been ashamed in public by false allegations or have been physically harassed or beaten for attempting to vie for a political seat.
Emmaculate Musya, a women leader from the slums of Kibera recalls all too well when she attempted to vie for a civic seat with the sprawling Kibera slums. “I had indicated my interest for a ward seat and I knew that I was going to win because of the huge following behind me. However, this was not to be as my opponent sent goons who physically intimidated me,” recalls Musya. “Before I knew it, I found myself standing on my pants. All my clothes had been ripped off my body.”
Being left naked in broad daylight in front of people, not only left Musya vulnerable but she feared for her life because then she did not know what to expect. Many thoughts ran through her mind as she wondered whether her attackers were going to kill or rape her. The incident killed her morale and she had no option but pull out of the race.
Musya’s case is not isolated. She is just a true picture of what many women who have attempted to vie for political positions and have shown an indication of being stronger than their male counterparts have faced. They have often met with threats that are not only thrown to them but also to members of their immediate family.
A woman in Machakos town remembers the spine chilling call that warned her that she would be raped with her daughters if she did not give up her political ambitions. She was forced to sleep out of her home that night as the chilling words of the phone call kept ringing in her years. “We are going to rape you and your daughters if you continue with this dream,” she remembers.
As we mark the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, sexual and physical violence are some of the huge threats that face women during electioneering time. The violence is not only meted on women aspirants but to women voters as well. The violence starts during party nominations and is extended to campaign period, election day and even in the post-election.
Party nominations are heavily violent as they determine whose name will be in the final ballot paper. Women who have attempted to get party nominations have been shocked to realise that while they are holding the results of the win in their hands, the party nomination certificate is already in the pockets of the rival.
Many of them say that nominations are marred with violence as agents of various people will push and shove to displace them from handing over their winning results.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that has been used as an organising strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels. It also looks at strengthening local work around violence against women and establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women. It provides a forum in which organisers can develop and share new and effective strategies as well as demonstrate the solidarity of women around the world organizing against violence against women
The campaign also creates tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women.
The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of genderbased violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
Electoral conflict and violence can be defined as any random or organised act that seeks to determine, delay, or otherwise influence an electoral process through threat, verbal intimidation, hate speech, disinformation, physical assault, forced “protection”, blackmail, destruction of property, or assassination.
Women remain targets of electoral violence because it is the men who control the storage of identity and voters cards. The men also control women’s political choices and determine who will vote for whom in the elections. Cultural perceptions of women and leadership have made them targets of electoral violence. The situation is compounded by failure of the state to provide security for women during the poll period.
Speaking in Kapenguria, West Pokot during a Media Dialogue organised by African Woman and Child Features under the Peace Initiative Kenya project women said that they do not have any political rights. According to Alphina Lokortudo, women have a lot of problems with regards to elections. Speaking of how they are discriminated against during elections, she said that those who dare disobey the husband by voting for a candidate that is not his preferred choice will get severe beating and also be at a high risk of being sent away from their marital home.
“Men go to the trading centres have a drink and it is from there that they decide who is to be voted for. As women we are threatened and if his preferred candidate loses in the evening you will get a thorough beating as you will be accused of being the reason for that loss,” says Lokortudo.
Her sentiments are echoed by Jennipher Losiakhim who says that women have no freedom because the men keep possession of their identity and voters cards to ensure the woman does as he pleases.
“We do not keep our own voting cards. It is our husbands who keep the voter’s and identification cards for us. Even ATM cards and mobile phones are controlled by men. We have not got our rights yet,” says Losiakhim.
She notes: “He will only give the woman the ID and voter’s card on the voting day and specifically at the polling station when she is about to enter the voting booth. He is also the one who will decide who she will vote for.”
These sentiments were echoed in Eldoret where AWC held a forum with women aspirants under a project that is sponsored by USAID.
Rose Chesire who is aspiring for a ward seat in Uasin Gishu says: “There are many challenges that women face forcing them to keep away from politics. The first challenge is culture followed by physical, psychological and sexual harassment by male rivals. Family is another challenge, the husbands says if you want to vie you can do so outside this house. I have not vied for a seat but know what they go through.”
This is the experience that Elizabeth Kimaiyo went through as she aspired to vie for a civic seat in 2007. She was accused of many things including “sitting on her husband”.
Says Kimaiyo: “While I was sleeping in my house at night my rivals were using money to fight me at night meetings and drinking pubs with the elders. On the voting day I went to ask the elders to give me their blessings instead they asked me to give them money, which I did not have. However, I got blessings from the women.”
It will be no different in the forthcoming elections. Already women are experiencing challenges and indications of threats and intimidation are rife. Many are being told not to vie for other elective positions because they have the women county representative seat.
It is already indicated that nearly 30 counties have signs of violence occurring out of the 47. Only 11 are on green, showing they will be peaceful while the rest are in the red, meaning they are likely to see high incidences of violence.
When violence occurs during electioneering period it is women and children who bear the brunt.
As the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence comes to an end today December 10 that also marks the International Human Rights Day, women are saying that the state must put in place organs that will protect them from political violence and intimidation. They are saying that political parties must respect the rule of law and party agents must not in any way be used to threaten and beat up aspirants.
It is only then that elections and the country will be peaceful.
This article was originally published in the 16 Days of Activism 2012 Special Issue of the Reject Online newspaper | Download the PDF