Every human being has a right to access all the basic needs of life. This guarantees access to food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, sanitation and survival without discrimination. The latter is always infringed upon in many ways because throughout the world, people are discriminated upon every day based on their race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.
In this article, we are going to have a look at discrimination against Kenyan women especially during political seasons in the run up to general elections. Elections and the electioneering period have historically been a precarious time for all women involved, be it candidates, voters, election officials and campaigners. There has traditionally been bullying and abuse offline, and the situation is only escalating as the online world grows and abusers get access to newer, faster, and more anonymous platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Any form of violence will always destabilize peace. And yet peace is what we need for stability of families, societies, and for economic activities to thrive. As such, there is need to look at the forms of violence meted against women, and push law makers for appropriate laws and actions to curb them. There is also need for continuous sensitization of the public to let women be as they exercise their constitutional rights and live within their basic human rights.
Some of the forms of violence against women are as follows:
Five in every ten women in Kenya aged between 15 and 49 have been put through domestic violence in one form or other, be it physical, sexual, emotional, or economic violence to name a few. With domestic violence, women mostly go through abuse from a male figure, mostly a husband.
Cases of domestic violence usually peak during electioneering seasons, as many women are subdued into taking a spouse’s preference instead of their own. In the run up to the 2013 general elections for instance, there was a case of a woman in Western Kenya whose ID and voter’s card were confiscated by her husband because she had a different choice of presidential candidate. This is not unique at all, as other thousands of incidences of violence take either a more subtle form or more blatant.
What is even more unfortunate is that this is so embedded in us that some women see no problem in targeted mistreatment or being beaten up. This is despite the fact that some are left nursing severe injuries that leave them incapacitated for day or even months.
Digital & online
Technology has been a game changer in all sectors, but it also comes with quite a number of pitfalls. Mobile phone penetration is at an all-time high in the country and there are no signs of a slowdown. Coupled with the high data speeds we have in Kenya, the world has opened up big time and many people are using these for good courses like work and online humanitarian work.
Unfortunately, the digital world has also opened up to unethical politicians, bullies, trolls and abusers. Women have been bullied mercilessly online by faceless mobs and this can lead to loss of morale and physiological fatigue. These are perfect breeding grounds for women to shy away from politics altogether, hence denying the gender slots in governance.
As a few examples, Millicent Omanga faces unpleasant comments about her weight and body shape every other day on Facebook and Twitter. The same goes for Esther Passaris. This is despite the fact that they are just on the campaign trail like anyone else. This is not the case for male counterparts who are normally looked at in terms of their portfolio and past work performance.
Martha Karua has often been looked down upon in some quarters in terms of her personal life, marital status and family. This only happens because she is a woman, otherwise even when male politicians have scandals, they are sometimes looked at as heroic. Though Martha is able to weather these tides, many women do not have that kind of courage and so they shun political participation all together.
We have cases where women have been harassed, assaulted and beaten up in rallies or on the campaign trail. They have received threats including death threats and their agents have often been put through the same. In 2017 for instance, Millie Odhiambo’s house was torched the day after she was declared winner of the Mbita parliamentary seat. In the same 2017, wayward Nairobi University students held Esther Passaris hostage and demanded ransom for her release. She was on the campaign train.
Both of these incidences demonstrate grave physical danger to women who dare take on politics and this should not be the case.
Sexual violence has been used as a tool to silence women since time immemorial. This stems deeply from cultural and patriarchal beliefs that have always placed women beneath men, and therefore perpetrating an unequal power equation where women remain unheard.
The use of sexual violence is particularly chilling because women place their dignity in their sexuality and violation of the same is violation of a woman’s core. The abusers know this and that is why it is so commonly used to put women down.
These are just examples out of thousands of others that are used to intimidating women from eyeing leadership positions. When women are excluded from leadership, their voices diminish, and this is what the abusers want. They cannot be let to win.
In the next article in this series, we are going to look at the impact of violence on women and girls during elections.