During elections seasons, you will see women in their multitudes, adorning the various paraphernalia of their preferred parties ululating, dancing, cheering, singing and so on. Women also attend rallies in stadiums, road shows, meetings; become party agents, mobilizers and so on.
At this point, they are the darlings of the politicians from the level of the Members of County Assembly all the way to the presidential nominees. The politicians love, respect, and reward them in various ways at this point.
But the love soon changes when the same women announce their desire to vote in or out a particular candidate, support their own women candidates, or run for the various offices that are vacant for election.
Welcome to the relationship between politics and the women in Kenya during elections which can be best described as the love-hate kind with our patriarchal society drawing so many red lines for women to cross when they want to exercise their right but have no qualms pretending to be in their corner when they need women to work for them in various capacities.
The hoops are just too many to jump as well and the funny thing is that they do not put in mind the numerical value that the women bring to the table because women themselves are wrapped around the little fingers of the male politicians or are unaware of their numerical strength.
Our society does this with a callous disregard for the laws enshrined in our Constitution and that provide for every Kenyan to be able to vote or seek public office, including women.It disregards the landmark resolution on women, peace, and security by the Security Council adopted on 31 October 2000 as well.
The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.
Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to the conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict.
The resolution provides a number of important operational mandates, with implications for the Member States and the entities of the United Nations system. Unfortunately so much of the above is disregarded and there is no one to hold anybody to account so women suffer every election year.
Challenges for women voters and aspirants
In every election year, women are just thrown a bone but they are the ones that mostly suffer when things go south. Take the 2007/08 Post Election Violence for instance that claimed more than 1,333 lives and displaced over 650,000.
In this unfortunate part of history, over 900 cases of sexual violence were reported with girls and women bearing the bigger brunt of the cases.
There have been cases of sexual violence against women where women have suffered from as far as 1992 up to 2017. At the onset of the just concluded campaigns, women reported cases of being raped when coming from road shows, being beaten by men for campaigning for particular candidates and so on.
The female candidates have not had an easy time as well due to discrimination and intimidation. In 2013, very few women ran for office, making Kenya, lag behind its eastern neighbors. The country had dismal 9.8% female parliamentarians, as compared to Rwanda’s 56.3%, Tanzania’s 36%, and Uganda’s 35%.
This year, there has been a surge in the number of women aspirants but they have not had aneasy time either. An aspirant for the Women Representative seat in Nairobi Esther Passaris was taken hostage at the University of Nairobi by male students who demanded she parts with150,000 Kenyan shillings (US$ 1,500) after addressing a women’s welfare association.
Millie Odhiambo, one of Kenya’s most vocal female parliamentarians, had her house burnt down, this despite her bodyguard being run over and killed by a man driving an opposition campaign vehicle, just days before the fire incident.
In February, Eunice Wambui, an aspiring MP for Embakasi South was also attacked while urging people to register in numbers in Mukuru Kwa Reuben, a sprawling slum in Nairobi.
If women are not fighting off sexual predators and their other tormentors, they find themselves having to deal with issues of gender, cultural and social stereotypes.
Such stereotypes insist that women are supposed to remain in the kitchen and bedroom, attending to men and their children. How dare she nurses dreams to lead or even think better than men? Forget any elective seat completely if you are pregnant or nursing a baby.Despite these being very noble actions, people will actually vote you out because of them.
This needs to change and only by telling men and the public at large that they are not in any way hampering their abilities to lead. Hon Sabina Chege from Nyeri has done a good job so far of leading while nursing a small child.
Most female candidates also find themselves unable to raise the enough money to go on the campaign trail. They find themselves outmatched financially and hence are not able to sell their policies to the public as much as they would like to sell.
A solution for this would be breaking away from tradition and asking the voters to contribute some money for you through various fundraising initiatives.
Parties also mistreat them and despite letting them slave on party matters for four years, connive to remove them from nomination lists which can be quite disheartening. This may just require women to start thinking of forming their own parties or joining those parties that are known to be friendly to women.
Female voters, on the other hand, may be affected by cultural beliefs that lead them to believe they are not the voters and are just fit to stay at home on voting day.
On the other hand, some women just have to follow the voting patterns of their husbands every voting year because they do not know better or are intimidated by their spouses not to vote otherwise.
In other settings, the domestic chores are just too much and with the husbands having a right to vote by virtue of them being men, the women just stay at home to complete the heavy chores which may include herding animals and walking for many kilometers in search of water.
Once everything is said and done, the voting day comes and all the campaign machinery across the board is shut down. You would think that all is well for every voter and especially for women.
However, this is far from the truth because many people are unable to shake the nagging feeling that it is the calm before the storm. It is that feeling that tells you that with the wrong trigger, a lost vote or just suspicion of rigging things will degenerate very fast.
This is the worst news any mother with a small child or pregnant women would like to hear. They start imagining what would happen if everyone started running helter skelter or if they started hacking and beating each other. Such thoughts continue to keep many women voters in such conditions out of the voting process.
You hear of people making various arrangements to take the elderly and the sick to polling stations to vote but no similar arrangements for the heavily pregnant women or those with small children.
This really affects women who live very far from the voting centers. In some centers, they are made to queue just like other women and some eventually give up and go back home without voting.
This eventually affects their democratic right of voting and affects the outcomes of elections for those with a bias to female candidates.
In some houses, men are the custodians of Identification documents such as Identity Cards or passports and may refuse to hand them over to women to go and vote especially if they suspect that the women will not vote a candidate of their choice.
As we go to elections tomorrow, there are some women who are still illiterate and may not be aware of the electoral process and may just opt to stay away. This is very unfortunate because it is one of the ways to break the cycle and ensure that more women do not suffer a similar fate.
If it is too late because they are not registered voters, ensure that you convinced them t take part in the next elections. There are those that are affected by voter apathy and do not see the impact of elections on their daily lives and the fact that women are not taken seriously may just affect them as well.
There are still a few hours to tomorrows election process convince another woman, talk to more women and offer help where you can to encourage them to take part in this important process.