The political arena in the country appears to be far from offering a level playing field for women politicians, at least going by the recent party primaries where only handful of them successfully braved the bruising and bare-knuckled campaigns staged mainly by their male opponents.
Most women across the country say they have had to contend with various forms of violence, political thuggery and intimidation, including sexual harassment, meted on them by male opponents and their supporters with a view to discouraging them from the race.
In Nyeri County, for instance, where no woman won the Jubilee Party primaries for MP or senator’s ticket, female politicians underwent the proverbial baptism by fire during the recent primaries. This included physical attacks and sexual harassment and propaganda.
Ms Sheila Githaiga, who unsuccessfully vied was at one point accosted by a mob of about 30 men armed with batons and machetes at night in Bellview village, Kieni West as she was on her way home after campaigns.
“I was trailed by two men riding on a motorbike for more than 30 minutes. Then suddenly a crowd emerged. They blocked the road with stones and tyres.
“They smashed the rear window of my car after my husband pleaded with them to spare us,” Ms Githaiga told the Nation.
She said the young men intimidated her to drop her political bid. She said women were neglected by security agencies.
And Cathy Wanjiku Irungu, 33, who was vying for Mathira parliamentary seat, was constantly sexually harassed by supporters of her rivals.
“The sexual harassment takes two forms; verbal and physical. The verbal harassment takes a subtle but a very embarrassing and intimidating form where your appearance and beauty takes the centre stage and not the issues at hand,” said Ms Irungu says.
She noted that others would hurl insults loaded with sexual undertones especially when money was not dished to them.
“The physical form of sexual harassment takes the form of encroachment on personal space from admiring and ogling in public, forced and attempted hugs from men, unwarranted touching and in some cases efforts put to undress you especially when campaigning in hostile territories,” she narrated, adding that goons were even hired to intimidate her.
She said youths well known to her, in one incident, slapped her, manhandled and touched her inappropriately at Nyeri National Polytechnic during an aspirants’ meeting.
Ms Ann Kanyi who vied for the Tetu parliamentary seat and lost, escaped death by a whisker, after an attack by four masked men who were armed with metal bars at Mbaaini village.
They blocked her vehicle, smashed her car windows before dragging her out and assaulting her.
She sustained back, leg and neck injuries and also a knee dislocation. She was treated at Mathari Mission hospital. The perpetrators were never arrested even though she reported the incident at Gachatha police station.
SEEN IT ALL
In Kiambu, where only four women who triumphed in the highly competitive Jubilee Party primaries — two for Members on Parliament and two for the ward representative seats — the campaigns proved a hostile ground for female politicians.
Ms Jacqueline Nungari who won the JP ticket for Bibirioni ward in Kiambu County has seen it all.
The nominated MCA narrated to the Nation an incident how one of her opponents had organised goons to strip her naked to humiliate and discourage her from contesting.
Although the plan did not succeed, Ms Nungari says that that was her baptism into politics and has kept her prepared and ready to handle any situation.
“You wake up one morning and people decide to call you a prostitute, forgetting that you are a mother and a sister to someone. Sometimes the male candidates will use your fellow women to advance their criticism towards you,” she said, and described some of her experience as “hell”.
In Nyanza, a region whose politics is male dominated, three women including Ms Millie Odhiambo (Suba North), Dr Lilian Gogo (Rangwe) and Eve Obara (Kabondo Kasipul), have been cleared by ODM — the dominant party in the area to face off with their male colleagues in the MP race in the August 8 polls.
Ms Odhiambo, Dr Gogo and Ms Obara defied all odds and faced off with men in the hotly contested nominations in a region where culture plays out against women.
“I won the ODM ticket and just waiting for clearance by the IEBC. It was not an easy task though in the contest against them,” Ms Obara, A former Kenya Literature Bureau Managing Director told Nation.
For Ms Odhiambo, the death of her security guard, Kennedy Okore, on the D-day of the polls and the torching of her house in Mbita, are two incidences she will live to remember in her political journey.
The man sustained serious injuries after he was run over by a vehicle when chaos broke out at Urianda Primary School, Lambwe ward in Mbita.
Ms Odhiambo blamed her main opponent James Akali for the death, but Mr Akali denied the allegations saying “the MP was simply seeking for political mileage.”
A few days later, Ms Odhiambo’s house at Koyani, Lambwe in Mbita was set ablaze amid protests over the results of ODM primaries.
In the South Rift, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso who is the Sotik MP, is optimistic of dethroning Bomet governor Isaac Ruto of Chama Cha Mashinani Party in the general election.
“To win the race, I do not focus on the name callings. My great use of Constituency Development Funds to transform the lives of Sotik residents speaks for itself.
“I also sell my manifesto to the people of Bomet which is tailored towards improving education, health and agricultural standards among others,” said Dr Laboso.
Dr Gogo, a lecturer at Egerton University wrestled off four men in the primaries.
“I have to mention to you that it was not an easy task to win that race. I had to fight hard amid threats and violence by my opponents. In some polling stations, my agents were even sent away but that did not stop my victory,” she said.
Kisumu deputy governor Ruth Odinga, who dropped her gubernatorial bid to campaign for her brother Raila Odinga, argues that parties must crack whip to end political violence meted against women aspirants.
“I am afraid that from this trend, we may have few or even lack a female deputy governor in our party,” Ms Odinga said.
Nominated senator Joy Gwendo of Jubilee who wants to unseat Shakeel Shabbir as Kisumu East MP said the insults on sexuality was a great challenge to women aspiring for leadership positions.
“I face a lot of challenges. The biggest being insults on my sexuality, societal challenges considering we live in a patriarchal society,” says Ms Gwendo.
In Kiambu, Thika Town Alice Ng’ang’a, former broadcaster and nominated MCA Wanjiku wa Kibe who won the JP ticket for Gatundu North MP ticket also say they have experienced all manner of harassment and intimidation during the campaigns for the Jubilee Party ticket.
Ms Ng’ang’a, who is seeking re-election for a second term, faces two male opponents who during the primaries had staged stiff competition. She accused her rivals of having teamed up to harass and intimidate her and her supporters.
The legislator says the campaign has been so dirty and that she was shocked by the extent to which her male rivals would go to try and humiliate her. This included attempts to drag her into dirty games and cause her emotional pain.
“You need to be prepared and to be tough because you can expect anything at any given time. People will target you and your family. They will even go to a length of maliciously tinting your morality, just to discredit your candidature,” says the Thika Town MP.
Ms Wanjiku wa Kibe who won the JP ticket for the Gatundu North Parliamentary seat says women who enter politics must be ready to endure all manner of propaganda including intrusion into ones private life and insults.
“In politics, for a woman to be called names including a prostitute is not a big deal. Someone can call you anything regardless of the environment you are in, just to kill your morale so that you can quit the race,” Ms Kibe said, adding that some of her campaigners were physically attacked.
One of her campaigners, she says, was attacked and beaten up by her opponents and every day, she would endure insults and propaganda which she says was meant to bring her down.
LONG WAY TO GO
She advices women politicians to be strong and brave and ignore the intimidation.
In Isiolo County where female politicians say that despite efforts to put up strong campaigns against their male rivals, they continue to face a lot of intimidation and harassment.
Only two women have expressed interest to vie for top three county elective posts with most flocking for the “safe’’ Woman Rep seat.
Ms Lucy Mworia, who is running for the Isiolo North parliamentary seat as an independent candidate, says that rivals even hire goons to physically harass female rivals.
“We want the security personnel and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to provide us with body guards who will protect female candidates as we traverse the region in search of votes,” she noted.
She cited incitement instances where one of her rivals is said to be spreading propaganda that a woman cannot solve conflicts arising from cattle theft that is rampant in the region if she gets elected.
Nominated Senator Fatuma Dhulo who is vying for the senator’s post has warned her male competitors against playing the gender card but says that she will not be distracted from seeking the seat.
“I am ready to face off with eight male candidates, but those spreading propaganda that the seat only belongs to men are wrong, the Constitution allows women to contest for any elective seat,” said Ms Dhulo who is vying on a Party for Development and Reforms (PDR) ticket.
(Reported by Joseph Wangui, Eric Wainaina, Justus Ochieng, Anita Chepkoech and Vivian Chebet)