First understand the root causes, impact of gendered political violence to curb it
By Jacqueline Muturi
| December 5th 2021
In every electioneering period, women in Kenya face attacks on the campaign trail, brutal character assassination from both party members and their opponents, and threats to step down.
They are a reflection of the convergence of patriarchal gender stereotypes steeped in our traditional customs and gender-based violence. This convergence prevents women from claiming their political rights.
Politics and political leadership in the country is often viewed as a male preserve. Women who join politics and succeed in it in terms of attaining legislative seats face ridicule and slander since they are “othered” and not seen as capable leaders.
The personalisation of politics does not make it any better, as our political systems reinforce allegiance through tribal cleavages where patriarchal leaders maintain patronage and wield significant power, which they use to influence local decision-making. Participation in politics requires one to seek support from local leaders and negotiate with them as they control the voting blocs. Since women are not represented in these local and traditional leadership structures, they cannot negotiate and create influential relationships.
Though it is difficult to determine whether the violence female candidates face is a result of them being women or politicians, the type of political violence women face differs from traditional forms of political violence.
Women in politics often face gendered violence which seeks to repress, deter, control and violate their political rights. The political violence meted on women is carried out by different actors including opponents, police, criminal gangs, party members and even their family.
In addition, political violence against women tends to happen before, during and after elections. Lastly, the violence is not only physical and psychological but they face economic violence and unbridled harassment and character assassination.
Political violence against women is rooted in a culture of gender-based violence. In Kenya, women are often victims of violence in their homes as well as in their public life.
Traditional and cultural norms portray women as submissive to both cultural and family decisions.
This creates an environment in which they face the highest levels of both sexual and physical violence.
In addition, a gender-insensitive and an under-resourced justice system fails to hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions thereby perpetuating impunity and reinforcing unequal power relations based on social norms against women.
Such a socio-cultural environment has crucial repercussions for women who seek to participate in public fora. Many are coerced and threatened to make choices dictated by the men in their lives. They face intimidation, public shaming, divorce threats as well as physical violence.
Gendered political violence has a net effect on all women. It silences women and excludes them from public participation.
Overall, violence against women in politics is an offensive barrier that hinders female politicians from fully participating in it and also negatively impacts their durability and success in the political arena.
It is thus important to understand the root causes and how the gendered aspect of violence manifests.
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