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Women and politics: Another abusive ‘union’

Running for a political office is not for the faint hearted, and especially for women who face sexual harassment and intimidation from their male opponents

It was around 8pm during the 2007 elections campaign, when Flora Igoki, a parliamentary aspirant for North Imenti arrived in her home town. As she walked from the stage, she noted some men walking behind her.

She hurried off, but the men were too fast for her and finally caught up with her. Before Igoki knew it, she had been pinned down and one man was shaving off her hair with a blunt object and sometimes tearing it off her skin.

Another held her throat and warned, “If you scream we are going to rape you on your father’s grave.” Then the men mixed human waste with her hair and before long, the mixture was forced down her throat.

The brutality coupled with blows and insults sent a clear message that she should give up her quest for the parliamentary seat. To date, no one has been charged with the assault. However, it was not an isolated incident.

Same year, the Education Centre for Women in Democracy help desk, a Nairobi-based Non-Governmental Organisation, handled 153 cases of electoral violence against women candidates and received 258 complaints of harassment and torture of women via email and phone.

Now, a decade later, violence, intimidation and propaganda against women running for office still thrives. According to Meru county gubernatorial aspirant Winnie Kaburu, socialisation plays a huge role and society needs to be enlightened and understand that leadership is not about gender. “I have been a victim of harassment, although it wasn’t physical.

Political goons once blocked my motorcade for almost three hours,” she narrates. She claims that the drunk men kept hurling insults at her. “I had to go back, since no help was forthcoming,” she says.

According to Kaburu, many women are intimidated and are afraid to vie. She adds that not more than once, people have advised her not to contest ‘manly’ positions, and that women would be better off contesting the Woman Representative position, which is reserved for women. It’s a tall order to seek office as women.

But in the 21st century, why would socialisation and gender play a role in leadership? Well, men know that if they intimidate women, they would leave the floor for them.

According to Truphena Estambale CEO, Political Parties Dispute Tribunal, (PPDT) of the 118 cases reported during this year’s party nominations, 16 were filed by women. The tribunal insists that only 13 per cent of women are approaching the tribunal.

“From the statistics we have, I believe that women aspirants have not been as active as they should be in fighting for their rights through the tribunal,” she says. Some women still rely on men even when they are seeking elective leadership positions, and this is where the problem lies.

Estambale cited a case where a nominated female MCA was disenfranchised, but it was the husband who followed up the case with the Tribunal. “Women have a mandate to get acquitted with the Tribunal’s laws and more so work on their confidence,” says Estambale It is a pervasive, but often overlooked barrier that prevents women from having their voices heard.

However, the Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida) understands the difficulties women politicians face and promise to protect women against any kind of violence.

Fida chairperson Josephine Mong’are says that Fida is training women candidates on how to face pre and post election difficulties. Mong’are adds that Fida will provide free legal services to women in case of election disputes.

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