How s****l h****sment locks women out of politics

Wednesday, January 26th, 2022 10:39 | By

Every time Kenya has elections, the faces of political leaders plastered across walls, and billboards, always have one common characteristic: most of them are men.

The missing faces of women occur because women face multiple barriers to enter into politics, including prevailing gender stereotypes and institutional obstacles and often face harassment, threats, and violence.

Although all politicians are exposed to violence, women bear the brunt, largely because of their gender.

Dr Juliet Kimemia, a gubernatorial aspirant in Kiambu County is one of the women previously targeted.

“As a survivor of elections violence meted on me by my male counterpart, I must admit it plays a role in the mental and emotional well-being of a person,” she says.

Having suffered a lot of violence from him including verbal, emotional, psychological, Kimemia attests this is one reason most women would not want to get into political spaces.

“While I was a County Executive Committee in Kiambu County, I went through a lot of psychological torture which led to my decision to run for governor,” she explains.

She recalls how while still in the office, her abuser was clear from the get-go that he would do away with her. He succeeded.  

“I remember finding out about my dismissal from social media and I just wondered how people could be so cruel to dismiss you off duty without any official communication,” she says.

Although this would have discouraged her, it made her stronger and that is how she got the confidence to take up to political duties.

“Women keep quiet, yet GBV is meted on them in the executive space where nobody seems to care, where men feel like they are in authority and anything they do is right,” she says.

She says support from colleagues and supports helped her through.

“But what happens to the people who have no support,” she asks

It’s not any different for Viviane Owino, 26, aspiring Member of County Assembly (MCA) in CBD Ward, who explains that she has come across so many men who give her an ultimatum while seeking advice for her political journey.

“So many people tell me that I am still young and that I should not run for a political seat because of my looks, which somehow doubles up as harassment,” she says.

She recalls a recent incident where she had to put off a senior politician who constantly kept on telling her she needed to accept his advances to get the guidance she needed to campaign.

“As an aspirant, I need so much support from my seniors or people who have been in that space before, but every time I walk in the office to address my issues and have a discussion with someone in regards to the same it will always end with them requesting for sexual favours and us having an argument of how it is not possible,” she says.  

This always torments her and makes her question her decision to run for a political seat.

“I have the zeal to be in the ballot papers but some people surrounding me, mostly men, tend to make it hard for me to stand up for myself,” she says.

In numbers

A study by the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) and African Parliamentary Union (APU) showed that sexism, harassment, and violence against women is rampant across African parliaments.

The report indicates that 80 per cent of female MPs have experienced psychological violence in parliament, 67 per cent have been subjected to sexist behaviours and remarks, and 39 per cent of them have faced sexual violence from their male counterparts.

The report adds that women parliamentarians under 40, unmarried women and women from minority groups face a higher incidence of violence and women with disabilities are the most seriously affected.

Monicah Kimeu Secretary-General Women in Safety Excellence (WISE) says to vie for a political position as a leader, one only needs to have the constitutional requirements that comply with the seat they are contesting. This way, they would not need to get help from men in exchange for sexual favours.

“One of the problems we have as a country is the patriarchal system which needs to be challenged. If it is not challenged men will always stop women from participation in politics,” she explains.

That many women opt to die in silence due to the shame they might experience if they decided to open up makes it hard for the vice to be dealt with.

 “I come from a male-dominated sector and there are comments men make that actually irritate me, but normalising it makes it easier for men to lower your authenticity and respect, so I always point them out and make them apologise for their ill-mannered comments,” she adds.

Other than physical abuse being a dominating form of abuse, female politicians as well as those aspiring experience other forms of abuse, an example being online abuse.

Kennedy Ombogo, Information and Security Analyst, explains that women in leadership positions specifically in politics, including those aspiring to be politicians, have been unduly targeted by online violence and have experienced the wrath of online abuse threats and bullying.

Compared to that of men, female harassment is considered to be religious, racial and sexual in nature and in most cases it is a different way of intimidating women.

“Despite these issues women cannot run away from social media, it is hard to avoid the use of social media as a tool of campaigning, as online media is an asset which helps reach out to potential voters and increase of different politicians,” he says

However, he admits that it is important for women to be equipped with basic training when it comes to the navigation of social media and to have women rally around each other in order for them to not be the perpetrators of any form of attack.

He emphasises the need of having legislation revised to target technology-related violence including cyber espionage, revenge pornography, and false information to help curb cyberbullying and any related harassment.

“If we have a policy and legislation that will criminalise cyberbullying and the implementation and enforcement of such laws. As well as having programmes that support sensitise, educate and rehabilitate those that have been affected by online abuse, I believe we will be able to fight the ideology that politics is a man’s world,” he says.

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