Female Candidates Claim Discrimination in Kenyan Elections

They say underhand tactics were used to discredit their campaigns.

Female Candidates Claim Discrimination in Kenyan Elections

They say underhand tactics were used to discredit their campaigns.

Martha Karua was Kenya's only female presidential candidate in the 2013 election, and is one of Kenya's most prominent female politicians. (Photo: Heinrich Boll Stiftung/Flickr)
Martha Karua was Kenya's only female presidential candidate in the 2013 election, and is one of Kenya's most prominent female politicians. (Photo: Heinrich Boll Stiftung/Flickr)

Several female candidates who stood in recent general elections in Kenya say male rivals intimidated and discriminated against them, causing many to drop out of the race.

The allegations relate to elections to Kenya’s National Assembly and to the 47 county assemblies across the country, held simultaneously with the presidential polls on March 4.

Janet Chepkwony, who was hoping to be elected from the Kapkangani ward to the Nandi county assembly in the Rift Valley, said sexual discrimination was a real obstacle to her campaign.

“I was the only woman among more than ten men who contested for the position,” she said. “It is unfortunate that they capitalised on their jingoism to intimidate me and my supporters to pull out of the race.”

Chepkwony failed to win the seat.

“I was confronted with a situation where I received threats to my life, while my supporters were physically abused or intimidated. This made it difficult to access some of the areas and compete with my rivals on an equal footing,” she said.

On the eve of party nominations in the Kandara constituency, also in the Rift Valley, the sitting member of parliament, Alice Muthoni Wahome, found that her name was printed on packs of condoms distributed among voters.

“A gift from Alice Muthoni Wahome: Kandara, let us do family planning,” the message on the packs said. Police blamed male candidates standing against Wahome, who were clearly hoping to sink her chances of re-election.

Although experts say sexual discrimination was less visible during this campaign than in the last elections, held in December 2007, women’s groups are concerned about the way female candidates were treated.

“Most women candidates had to withdraw from seeking elective positions because of physical and psychological violence meted against them, resulting in less representation at the county and national assembly level,” Linah Kilimo, who chairs the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association, KEWOP, told IWPR.

Kilimo said that women had to employ private security guards after being threatened with attack.

“We hope the government will in future act tough against acts of insecurity, intimidation and hate speech, among other difficulties that women aspirants experienced in the recent elections,” she said.

According to local rights groups, this kind of behaviour, coupled with abusive messages on social media, prompted many female candidates to drop their campaigns.

Rose Kilimo of Marakwet Women and Girls, a human rights group in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret said hostile and underhand tactics caused female candidates “psychological anguish” and forced them to give up “for fear of jeopardising the lives of their families”.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution stipulates that one-third of the seats in each county assembly and in both houses of parliament taken together must be filled by women. At national level, 87 of the 416 seats in the Senate and the National Assembly are now held by women – at 21 per cent, well below the quota.

Women now hold 19 per cent of the seats in the 349-member National Assembly, largely due to the allocation of 47 seats to “women’s representatives”, elected one per county. Female candidates won only 16 of the 290 seats elected by the first-past-the-post system, and five more entered the lower house on a list of 12 “nominated representatives”.

As for the 47 county assemblies, not one met the one-third quota in the election. Fewer than 100 of the 1,450 county assembly members elected nationwide were female.

Candidates told IWPR they faced discrimination even from within their own political parties.

In the National Assembly election, Moira Chepkok ran for election as women’s representative for Uasin Gishu county in the Rift Valley province, but lost to a rival female candidate from the United Republican Party.

She says her party, the Orange Democratic Movement, gave her less funding for her campaign than it gave to her male counterparts running for other positions.

“I received minimal financial support from my party that discriminated [against] me,” Chepkok said, after she failed to be nominated to run. “I had difficulties raising the 100,000 Kenyan shillings for party nomination and the 500,000 Kenyan shillings [to file a] petition after I was unfairly locked out of the race.”

LOCAL PRESSURES

In other areas, female candidates ran up against traditional views on the proper role that women should play.

Grace Tallam, who stood for election in Nandi county, told IWPR how local community elders put pressure on her not to seek public office.

“I received numerous persuasions from elders and opinion-shapers who asked me to pull out, arguing that it was still unsuitable for women to participate in competitive leadership,” she said.

Tallam, who represented the United Democratic Forum party, lost narrowly to a male candidate, but nevertheless believes she proved a point.

“I had to put [up] a spirited campaign and make it to the ballot box,” Tallam said.

In Uasin Gishu county, Moira Chepkok said, “Queries were raised by my male rivals over the source of [campaign] funding, considering that women do not inherit such properties like land from their parents.”

Rhoda Rotino, who ran for election in West Pokot county, said pastoralist groups in the area had low levels of literacy and fixed views on social roles.

“Some male rivals confused the electorate [by arguing] that women could not vie for any other positions apart from that of women’s representative,” Rotino said. “Men are highly rated in society and the propaganda was taken as gospel truth.”

Local women’s groups say female would-be candidates need to take a stand.

“Time has come for women to resist forms of intimidation by male rivals and retrogressive cultural practices and grab leadership opportunities that come their way,” said Marcy Biwott of the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organization, in Nandi county.

Following the brutal violence that hit Kenya after the previous election in 2007, the government set up the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, NCIC, to improve levels of tolerance and harmony in Kenyan society.

Milly Lwanga, the NCIC’s vice-chairperson, explained that her office had made progress in reducing sexual discrimination.

“Since it was started, the NCIC has made deliberate efforts to foster harmony among communities, that [have] resulted in decreased cases of violence, [and] discrimination against women and hate speech during the last general election,” Lwanga said.

Winfred Lichuma, chairperson of Kenya’s National Gender and Equity Commission, says better voter education programmes are needed.

“The absence of proper voter education resulted in [a situation where] such counties like Kakamega, Kiambu and Nyandarua, amongst others, did not elect a single female county representative [yes],” she said.

Barnabas Bii is a reporter for the Daily Nation Newspaperin Eldoret.

This article was produced as part of a media development programme by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation in partnership with The Nation. 

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