Kenya has just gone one of the most contested and covered general election in history. The 2017 poll to vote for new leaders into various arms of government from the President to the Member of County Assembly is the 2nd under the devolved system of government since the promulgation of the new constitution in 2012. Although the devolved government has opened up opportunities for women seeking political leadership positions, there are numerous obstacles that women aspirants faced, some similar to male aspirants, and some, unique to them by virtue of being women.
— Amazing Kisumu (@AmazingKisumu) August 11, 2017
There are many women who failed to reach party nominations level to a due lack of grassroots support, funds and intimidation both in person and online mostly due to societal stereotypes on women. In most Kenyan communities and even at a national level, women are held to higher moral standards than men. This is especially so for women seeking political leadership. More often than not, a woman’s sexuality is always the barometer used to measure her worthiness. This is never the case for male political aspirants or even male politicians or leaders in the corporate world.
When women aspirants hv been covered, it has been mainly about past scandals, violence against them & not what they stand for #OurVoicesKe
— HapaKenya 🇰🇪 (@HapaKenya) August 14, 2017
Kenya recently made history by having the most number of women elected to Governor and Senator positions. Three women won gubernatorial seats which have always been dominated by men, and another three women won seats in the 68-member Senate. Kenyan women representation in the 12th parliament has increased from 16 in 2013 to 22 in the 2017 elections as noted by Africa news.
— #ElectionsKe 2017 (@KEIC2017) August 8, 2017
Although the just ended election was a win for Kenyan women due to the number of women who clinched the various leadership roles, most had to jump through hoops that their male folk didn’t need to including public ridicule both online and offline.
Cyberbullying of Women Aspirants
Kenya is one of the most connected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the country is experiencing a social media explosion. There are approximately 22 million users in Kenya with Facebook and Whatsapp having the highest usage at 6 million and 10 million respectively.
— MFA (@Media_Focus) July 28, 2017
Throughout the election period in Kenya, political conversations on election news oscillated from offline discussions to social media platforms seamlessly with WhatsApp cutting across all demographics. It is in this online forums that many Kenyans shared their opinions and thoughts on the various candidates who were vying.
The same stereotypes that are used against women who seek leadership not just in the business world but also in politics played out on Kenya’s online space in the run up to elections.
As noted in an article on CapitalFm news, female politicians active on social media networks like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter has been subjected to sexist comments, scornful tweets, often threatening their family members.
Women using their beauty and sexuality
“Esther Passaris is a socialite bimbo looking for billionare sponsors by selling her beauty,she’s nothing to offer Nairobi” ~ Miguna Miguna pic.twitter.com/HWe2frWshH
— Atanas (@atanasi_) August 6, 2017
Perhaps the most publicized case of political based bullying and intimidation was involving Esther Passaris and Miguna Miguna. Both were vying for political seats in the Nairobi County with Esther campaigning to be the next Women Rep and Miguna seeking to be the next Governor. During a TV interview with Jeff Koinange where both candidates had been invited on set to speak on their manifesto and policies, Miguna called Esther a “socialite bimbo looking for billionaire sponsors by selling her beauty “. The much-watched interview quickly made its way onto Kenya’s social media space where the bullying continued as Kenyans sought to ‘give their two cents’ on the debate.
That time Miguna Miguna and Esther Passaris were on the bench!!🔥🔥🔥
I know Miguna Miguna stepped out of the line but he had points!
— Kanana (@MissKananah) June 7, 2017
— Tanya Pretorius (@fetsiboomsticks) December 26, 2016
Women as Stupid Bimbos
Hapo kwa women rep hakuna choice. Those aspirants are dumb AF. All of them https://t.co/WTXDjjyuXE
— Daniel Ombajo 👦 (@Paapa__) July 31, 2017
This has been a biased against women aspirants vying for in politics in Kenya since time immemorial. Despite their level of education or a track record in various leadership roles, women aspirants are still deemed to not be well versed on how politics works. More often than not, their understanding of the different arms of government is undermined including their ability to engage with the many men in politics.
This stereotype was echoed online during the women Nairobi women rep debate hosted by NTV a few weeks to the election date.
Unmarried women & Iron Lady biased
‘Single women have no moral basis to lead, if they don’t have a home to manage, how will they manage a county’.
This stereotype has been used in every election cycle and this year’s election was no different.
The illegibility of a woman aspirant and her ability to lead is often linked to her sexuality and mothering abilities.
The former Kiambu County governor William Kabogo who lost his bid for a second term was captured on video criticizing his opponent because she dared to vie yet she was not even married.
The title of ‘Iron Lady’ has not become synonymous with Martha Karua who lost in her bid to become the next governor for Kirinyaga to Anne Waiguru. The term used to describe her attitude as a ‘no nonsense’ lady is often not used in the most endearing manner.
Safe Spaces Online for Women
One only needs to key in words of women aspirants in the just ended election on either twitter or Facebook to experience the high levels of biases, vulgarities, and insults used by Kenyans when speaking about the respective candidates.
There is a dire need for safe spaces online for women as cases of cyber based gender violence (CBGV) continue to increase especially during the election period. As noted in my article on cyber bullying of women in May last year, CBGV is evolving as a global problem with serious implications for societies and economies around the world. The statistics pose risks to the peace and prosperity for all enshrined in the Charter Resolutions 1325, and 1820 of the United Nations, and, in particular, to the goals of inclusive, sustainable development that puts gender equality and the empowerment of women as key to its achievement.