Soft targets of election violence
By - Njoki Chege
| December 16th 2012
Women politicians have to contend with many challenges as they seek political offices including politically instigated violence, writes Njoki Chege
A report released recently by The Constitution and Reform Education Consortium (Creco) on The Status of Violence in the country (June-August 2012) revealed an increase of violence against women vying for political seats.
According to the report, many of the cases of violence reported in June and July involved women candidates or campaigners, individuals and youth candidates.
The violence occurs psychologically and physically and is meant to scare women candidates away from the political race.
As Creco executive secretary Kawive Wambua says, women vying for other elective seats (such as constituency seats) are threatened to keep away because ‘they have their own special seats’ — the women representative seats.
“There is still a lot of hostile environment and women are discouraged from running because of the increased violence,” says Wambua. As a result, many strong female political candidates are crowding the women representative seats rather than spread themselves out to the constituency seats.
The aftermath of this will most likely be few women elected to the National Assembly and Senate and the dream of gender equity will prove even harder to achieve.
This is because many people still believe that women politicians can only vie for the special seats set aside for them.
And this is not just a societal problem, but a national problem as well, given the current political climate of coalitions, where women do not feature as prominently as their male counterparts.
“Even in the national coalitions we are witnessing today, nobody is serious enough to involve women in top-level leadership,” says Wambua.
According to the Creco report there are many ways in which violence is manifesting itself. They include disruption of campaign rallies, targeted murder, hate speech and harassment of aspirants.
The report claims that political party leaders, male aspirants and youth perpetrate most of these politically instigated violence targeted at women.
The participants of this violence include militia groups, campaigners and security agencies.
Kyambi Kavali, a female aspirant contesting for the Mwingi North parliamentary seat on a Wiper ticket is a victim of such violence.
Kavali, who is running for the first time, was a victim of intimidation, hurtful remarks and prejudice.
But she is not about to drop out of the race.
“My car was stolen in May this year. At first, I thought it was a normal robbery, until I bought another car and it was stolen two weeks after,” she says.
Car theft is normal in the city, but Kavali wonders why hers were the only ones stolen in her estate.
Kavali has also been a victim of threatening SMSes, heckling, verbal abuse and incitement by male candidates.
The fact that she is divorced added salt to the injury, as society viewed her from the ‘divorcee’ lens rather than that of an individual capable of leadership.
“Whichever way you view it, a female candidate will always face numerous challenges. A young woman will be told she is too young, an older one with family will be told to go home and take care of her family, a divorced one will face even harsher judgment,” says Kavali.
Recently, ODM Mwingi North parliamentary aspirant Zipporah Mueni’s car was sprayed with bullets while on the campaign trail.
The aspirant was returning to Nairobi from a campaign when the car she was in was shot at by police near Nguni market, 33km from Mwingi town.
The local district commissioner reported that the aspirant defied orders by police to stop.
Speaking to the media after the incident, Mueni termed the DC’s explanation as deceitful and as an attempt to cover-up the shooting. She claimed the shooting was politically instigated.
Pamela Tuiyot, a programme officer at UN Women, notes that women, now more than ever, are involved in politics as candidates, supporters and campaigners, but violence serves as an impediment to women making headway in politics.
The violence is not only targeted towards the female candidates, but towards their supporters as well, who are threatened with rape and physical violence.
“Women also face private violence, and risk being disowned by family and friends, which is a form of violence that has remained unspoken for long,” says Pamela.
Threats of rape and violence are taken to another level — against these women’s children, who have little or no involvement with politics.
For instance, Kyambi says that her daughter was especially scared after the second family car was stolen.
“My daughter was shaken and concerned about my security. For a moment, I thought about dropping out of the race, but my daughter is supportive of my political ambitions,” says Kyambi.
Sexist remarks and bad mouthing of women in politics is also a form of violence that has continued to be overlooked.
Male candidates will play dirty- by using smear campaigns to tarnish the name of a woman candidate that poses a threat. Women in politics are also branded promiscuous, a myth that has been used to discourage them from entering the political scene.
“People talk about hate speech, without giving much attention to sexist language and rhetorical and stereotypes against women in politics,” says Pamela.
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