Has COVID-19 Pushed Women in Politics off Kenya’s Agenda?

By Miriam Gathigah

In 2013, Alice Wahome ran in her third attempt to win the hotly-contested Kandara constituency parliamentary seat in Murang’a County, Central Kenya. As is typical of rural politics, the field was male-dominated, with the stakes being high for all candidates but more especially so for Wahome — no woman had ever occupied the Kandara constituency parliamentary seat.

“It was a very brutal campaign. I was harassed, verbally abused, threatened with physical violence and many unprintable things were [said to me] even in public,” Wahome tells IPS.

She says that attributes that are considered admirable and desirable in male politicians were weaponised against her and other women in politics.

“When we vocalised our opinions they said we talk too much and the underlying message is that decent women do not talk too much. When you have a stand, and are firm in your political beliefs and values, they say you are combative, intolerant and aggressive. The same qualities in men are acceptable,” Wahome says.

So vicious was the contest for the hearts of Kandara’s voters that on the morning of the 2013 general elections, the community woke to find packets of condoms branded with Wahome’s name. On the packets were messages, purportedly from Wahome, encouraging voters to embrace family planning.

“This was a smear campaign to show my people that I was not fit to be their leader. There are many things that politicians give to voters, such as food items. Distributing condoms in a rural, conservative society on the day of the elections is political suicide,” Wahome, a lawyer, says.

Fortunately, she had spent years interacting with the community, promoting health initiatives, education and the empowerment of women and girls. So despite the smear campaign, Wahome became the first woman to win the Kandara seat and is currently serving her second term in the national assembly after her 2017 re-election.

Propaganda, threats of violence and especially sexual and physical violence, public humiliation and unrelenting vicious social media smear campaigns are a few of the challenges that women in politics, like Wahome, have to overcome to win and sustain political leadership.

This is in addition to overall campaign challenges such as limited financial and human resources and vicious internal politics. But even at the political party level, the system is still skewed in favour of men who own and finance these parties.

“The political arena is very hostile towards women. The campaign trail is littered with lived experiences of women who have been brutalised for seeking leadership,” Wangechi Wachira, the executive director of the Centre for Rights, Education and Awareness (CREAW), tells IPS.

CREAW is a local partner for Deliver For Good global campaign that applies a gender lens to the Sustainable Development Goals and is powered by global advocacy organisation Women Deliver. The Deliver For Good campaign partners advocate to drive action in 12 critical investment areas, including strengthening women’s political participation and decision-making power.

Wangechi has been at the forefront of holding the government accountable for gender equality and equity, as provided for by Kenya’s 2010 gender-progressive constitution, which demands that all appointed and elected bodies constitute one-third women.

Source: Read this article on IPSNEWS 

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