Ahead of the polls in Kenya, female politicians undergo abuse and attacks

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Liz Njue, a Kenyan psychologist seeking a seat in the provincial assembly, had just arrived to vote in her party’s primary when opponents attacked her, pulled her hair and ripped her blouse. She fled without casting her vote and lost the race.

Njue is one of dozens of female candidates physically assaulted during their campaign for presidential, legislative and local elections on Aug. 9, according to the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association.

Such violence deters all but the most determined women from participating, said Mercy Mwangi, the association’s program coordinator, adding that most cases go unreported.

“People say, ‘We want women in politics, we want more women to get these political seats.’ But how do they get it when they are humiliated?” said 39-year-old Njue.

She reported the attack to police but said there had been no arrests. Police spokesman Bruno Isohi Shioso said Njau’s case remains open and active.

It is unclear who is organizing the most attacks, but candidates suspect their competitors.

None of the major political parties responded to requests for comment on the matter.

Violence against women is not limited to the political arena. According to the Gender Violence Recovery Center at Nairobi Women’s Hospital, nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence.

A resistance against women

Candidates say they are constantly intimidated.

Mary Mugure, a former sex worker, received threatening phone calls and text messages this year while running for a provincial meeting. In November, two men on a motorcycle attacked her while she was walking down the street. “It was just to intimidate me, to force me to resign,” said Mugure, who continued to campaign but lost the nomination.

A 2020 study published by Cambridge University Press said a constitutional requirement enacted a decade earlier — that no gender should hold more than two-thirds of elected or appointed positions — may have sparked backlash against women.

The quota was never met. There are 75 women in the 349-member House of Representatives, of which 47 seats are reserved especially for women. Women make up about a third of the upper house. Only three of the 47 provincial governors are women.

No woman has served as Kenyan president or vice president, although one of the current presidential frontrunners, Raila Odinga, has a female running mate, Martha Karua.

In the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, more than a third of parliamentarians are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Ethiopia and Tanzania have female presidents.

fight on

Every now and then there is a happy ending. Sarah Korere, the legislator of the Laikipia North constituency, was attacked in 2016 by a fellow MP.

The following year, she took his place and climbed from a reserved women’s seat to the mainstream — a move that comes with a significantly bigger budget. She used that money and donations to build a new school, she said.

Her attacker was jailed for a year in 2020, but was released after three months. He is now trying to get his seat back. But these days he’s more polite, Korere said.

The opponent, Matthew Lempurkel, could not be reached for comment. His attorney James Orengo did not call back to ask for comment.

“When he [Lempurkel] was jailed, it was a very good message,” she said. “It was a win for Kenyan women.”



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