Path to political power still strewn with obstacles for women

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By DOROTHY KWEYU
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The road to political office is strewn with violent acts — especially against women.

That is why the Federation of Women Lawyers – Kenya (Fida) has launched a hotline to report cases of violence against women in the countdown to the August 8 General Election.

The SEMA USIKIKE 21661 hotline, which was launched recently by Fida chairperson Josephine Mong’are, is for reporting cases of violence in real time.

It should be a boon to the 102 women aspiring to be Members of Parliament (MPs), nine gubernatorial candidates and 21 eyeing the Senate.

Even so, the very fact that special measures have been taken to protect women candidates raises issues as to whether violence is part and parcel of politics.

The hard truth is that women vying for political office must confront the violence.

It is the price they must pay for political office.

UNMARRIED
Ford-Kenya parliamentary candidate for Nambale Constituency in Busia County, Ms Pascaliah Makonjio, has sworn never again to vie for a political seat.

She told Saturday Nation how she frequently had to flee from her house during the 2013 General Election campaigns.

Although her decision to become an MP was informed by the need to address underdevelopment, and bring about inclusivity in decision-making, she says she soon realised that it was tough for a young unmarried mother to venture into politics and especially in a rural area.

Ms Makonjio, who was then 34, vied against six men and beat three of them in the final vote count.

She believes that her chances of winning as she gained popularity among the electorate resulted in threats that saw “men jump into my compound with machetes, but I had a spy who informed me of every step of my rivals’ goons… I had to disappear from the compound no matter how dark or late in the night it was”.

The information did not always reach her in time, and she remembers a night she had to jump out of the window when attackers broke the front door open.

“With only a transparent nightdress and bare feet, I fled to the police station.”

INTIMIDATION
Whenever she had a well-attended political rally, “it was difficult to sleep in my house because of threats through phone calls and SMSs”.

Once when she fell in a trench of dirty water fleeing her rivals’ goons and was rescued by a watchman, she got police security for only two nights.

“I gave up. I realised I lacked financial muscle and it seemed my opponents were using police to intimidate me.”

But it is not only single women who suffer political violence.

Dr Reginald Nalugala, a Social Transformation scholar at Tangaza College of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), is a husband of a senator in the National Assembly.

He says that violence against women politicians is not just physical, but has psychological effects on their families.

“When your spouse is elected to Parliament, he or she belongs to the people. Your privacy is gone, your cosiness at home goes.”

Although he has not suffered physical violence on account of his wife’s politics, he avers that psychological violence “will always be there when you see your spouse in the public eye, but you are not even known; when men see your wife and they think she is single, yet you have big kids in university.

“When you see your spouse’s capability and people downgrade her, that can cause violence inside and outward.”

Politicians’ families need lots of support and counselling, he adds.

SAFETY
In 2014, Tangaza organised a retreat for MPs and their families at which the psychological violence they suffer spilled over.

Wives and children of MPs pleaded to see more of their fathers at home.

“They suffer a lot. Any human being would suffer,” the don said.

Anonymity is a price such families must pay.

While ‘big guns’ in politics can afford bodyguards and state support, ordinary politicians with one bodyguard may not afford security for their families.

ANONYMITY
However, it would appear that opting for anonymity is a Catch 22 situation.

“When the immediate family is not known, then the politician becomes vulnerable to the same public. It is worse for female politicians. They are open to all sorts of abuse and violence,” Dr Nalugala says.

Is the implicit violence within politicians’ families the reason why women are shying away from politics?

Mrs Mong’are notes that for the first time in recent elections, no woman has stood for the highest office in the land: the Presidency.

Although physical violence against women politicians is real — and Mrs Mong’are singled out the brutality women suffered in the primaries earlier this year when ‘shameful acts’ were inflicted on an Embakasi parliamentary hopeful, psychological violence is equally bad.

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