It is that time in the Kenyan political history that the citizens will be going to the ballot to choose their preferred leaders. This election has also seen the number of women vying for elective seats increase as compared to previous elections. For instance, there are nine women running for the gubernatorial positions contributing to only 16 percent of the 10,910 candidates competing in this year’s election. There are also 900 women MCA aspirants across the country. There will definitely be a female governor in this election but I would like to see women bold enough to run for the presidential seat.
Women candidates continue to face violence, intimidation and harassment both on social media and across the country as they have been rallying for support. One case that really got to my nerves was involving the Nairobi women representative aspirant, Esther Passaris. During an interview on a live talk show, one of the politician told her that “everyone wants to rape you”. And apparently, the show host who was a man didn’t call out politician for his rude behavior. The same women representative aspirant was also on the receiving end when she claimed to have been held hostage by goons led by a former University Of Nairobi (UON) student who demanded that she gives him Sh150,000. This shows you how women are vulnerable to intimidation and abuse because they are deemed weaker compared to their male counterparts.
In the UN resolution 1325, it has been stated that women play an important role in maintaining the peace and stability in a country. During this period our women should be ambassadors of peace wherever they are because in case of violence, women and children suffer more. Women can be involved in peace campaigns by urging people to shun violence. Women shouldn’t lead in the spreading of hate speech in the country. When women just like any other person start attacking people on the basis of their tribe, they will be contributing to the fueling of violence. Women and children should also avoid being in areas which are set out to be dangerous or hot spots. They should rather stay around people and areas which are considered safe under any circumstance. Due to this fact, the Kenya National Action Plan is putting in place measures that will ensure the successful implementation of the UN resolution 1325.
The safety of women candidates and women voters is something that is of great importance to the government and the nation at large. Women should be protected against any form of intimidation, discrimination and sexual violence. During the 2007/2008 post-election violence, it was estimated that at least 900 cases of sexual violence occurred, with women being targeted on the basis of their ethnicity. The sad bit is that these vices were committed by people close and well known to these women making it hard to report them to the authorities.
Women’s safety can only be guaranteed if both the government and its people work together. One of the measures I would suggest be taken in future is ensuring that men and women have different queues. This is because men are known to be stronger than women and if they decide to push out women from the line they can do it comfortably. It’s good that women voters who are pregnant or carrying children who are still being breast fed are allowed to move up the queue. This is due to the obvious reason that they cannot be able to stand for a long period of time.
Women candidates can vie for any seat that they wish for because they have the same rights and chance as men. Leave alone the women representative seat which I’ve seen has very minimal budget allocated for it, making it difficult for women in these position to carry out any tangible projects in their constituencies. I feel there hasn’t been adequate uptake of electoral seats by women because they fear intimidation. The women candidates should ask for protection in case they feel threatened in any way. They have to inform the police about the threats so as to enable them put in place measures that will ensure all women candidates have proper security. In the recent past, The Kenya’s Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya) has said that the authorities have not done enough to protect candidates, nor have security agencies responded quickly enough to incidents of violence. They say the inaction increases intimidation of women candidates and their supporters.
Women tend to experience electoral challenges which are unique to them as women. The main challenge I’ve seen and which is really close to my heart is to do with the level of education. The education level of a lot of women is low, and they cannot be able to vie for top elective positions. The major reasons as to why women don’t have high levels of education is pregnancy, truancy and some communities unfortunately still believe that only the boy child should be empowered while the girl child can just be married off.
Lack of or missed civic voter education is another challenge that women especially the very old ones in the rural areas face. Voter education is very crucial because it’s meant to empower our women so as to ensure effective participation in the elections, but due to the fact that it is given too late or not given to these women, it therefore fails to fulfill its intention.
In the African culture, men are believed to be more of the leaders compared to women. In my local community, barazas are only attended by men who are also the disciplinarians. Any woman found there would be the one facing the wrath of the elders. Do you know that In Kenya just like Saudi Arabia,only a fifth of lawmakers are women ? People still believe that women are only meant to be in the kitchen and not at the leadership table, therefore being elected as a woman is a very big challenge.
Early this year, one of the women MP aspirant’s house was torched after she won party primaries and her bodyguard killed during a clash with supporters of a rival politician. This was intimidation of the highest order that makes other women shy away from vying for elective positions. The protection of women is very paramount this electioneering period. They say that women are the backbone of the society; in deed when we protect our women against any form of discrimination or violence, we’re protecting the entire nation.
Remember to let your voice be heard as among those who championed for peace in this election. As a woman voter, carry out your civic and democratic duty by voting for a leader who has the issues of women and children at heart.