My first encounter with the challenges that women experience in their pursuit for leadership, especially political leadership, was in a Kiswahili set book that I read in secondary school. The book is called Mayai Waziri wa Maradhi and the specific short story in the book is Uteuzi wa Moyoni by Raya Timammy. The story is about a woman called Zena who wants to stand for a political seat and explores the challenges that Zena goes through in her campaign – from discouragement from fellow women (starting with her mom) who thought that whatever she was doing was a taboo, she had to endure insults in the market place and her campaigns were most times disrupted in a violent way. I do not remember how the story ends – whether she ascended political power or not—but pitting this story against the Kenyan situation proves threateningly true.
UN Women through its landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security reaffirmed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, humanitarian response and so on. Because of this, the Resolution 1325 calls upon all parties that have a stake in the political process to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and other forms of obstacles that protect women candidates from following their ambitions through and voters from making decisions for themselves.
Here are some of the challenges that women running for political office and their supporters have to brave:
Stifling women voices because of certain retrogressive cultures
Are you aware that in this day and age, there still are women who cannot have their own stands regarding who they think is the right candidate to vote for and that such decisions are sometimes made for them by their spouses or male members of the family? Because a lot of women who find themselves in such positions do not have means to support themselves, they end up making the voting decisions based on what their spouses want or what the family wants. Unfortunately, family continues to be one of the main influences that determine who the women voters cast their vote for. In extreme cases, women are even threatened with divorce or violence if they do not dance to the tune of their spouses.
While there is nothing wrong with being persuaded otherwise when it comes to the choice of the political leader that one want to go for, challenges begin when the persuasion is not based on reason and the person being persuaded is not given the will or the choice to ultimately decide for themselves.
2. Attacks on female sexuality
It is not uncommon to hear about women’s sexuality being attacked on the campaign trail. I am not exactly a sympathiser of non-issue based politics and therefore, I am aware that women politicians just like their male counterparts, are bound to have a trail of unfulfilled promises that they made to their people in their previous bids for office and other such terms but why must women’s shortcomings invite sexual attacks? Believe me, I am not the best person to write about this but I think that the sexually-charged abuses that we read about women political leaders on blogs and elsewhere are an accurate reflection of the unfortunate perceptions that our society continues to have about women.
A case in point would be the thwarted presidential candidacy of Diane Rwigara who campaigned for office in the just concluded Rwanda elections. In a country that seems to operate by the mantra: “silence, peace is going on” the most disturbing bit of the campaigns is not that Diane’s bid was not allowed to see the light of day. But the fact that in the effort to render her position unattainable, her opponents started circulating nude photos which they purported to be of her. I do not believe that there are no tech wizards who can create images of nude men but the fact that such images are made to supposedly show the worthlessness of women is a further testimony of the deep pit that society has sunk into and just how much effort will be needed to make the grounds for political competition fair for both men and women. Rwigara says that her supporters were repeatedly threatened, beaten and jailed as they toured the country to drum up support.
If the women are going to lose, eventually, why not just let them be, campaign without their opponents unleashing smear campaigns and let them lose fairly?
3. Threats of rape and sexual violence
Political campaigns are rigorous and require a lot of time and finances. Most times, contenders have to work strange hours. I recently attended a media roundtable that explored how women are covered in the media and one of the concerns that came up from the editors was that it is sometimes difficult to get women on the late night shows and that is why sometimes it might seem as if only men’s voices are brought forth in some of these political shows. I think it is normal for campaigns to go on until late into the night or go into dangerous zones or places where security is not guaranteed. In situations like this, female candidates as well as their female supporters become vulnerable to all kinds of hazards including sexual and physical abuse by opponents goons. There needs to be structures where women can be safe enough to run their campaigns without fear of intimidation. Here Is How The Media Can Contribute To The Women In Leadership Agenda
The other form of sexual abuse is in the form of sexual attacks that we have seen even on our own mainstream media where we have two opponents, a man and a woman, selling their manifestos to the masses and the male opponent suddenly turns to the woman’s looks or attacks her sexuality instead of concentrating on what the point is.
4. Voter intimidation
A veteran woman politician documents in her autobiography that her supporters were openly intimidated with the aim of making them stop supporting her so that she loses. Dr. Julia Ojiambo was the first elected Kenya woman member of parliament for Funyula constituency in 1974. An article in The Standard records that, Julia Ojiambo crossed through treacherous cultural boundaries at a time when it was taboo for women to even consider holding posts that would mean men answer to them.
This perception begins to give you an idea of how difficult it was for Julia and other women such as Grace Ogot who got into politics in Kenya at a time when in Kenya, politics were totally closed to women.
The truth is that the political landscape in Kenya needs a lot of levelling for it to form a ground for equal political competition between men and women. I think that the first place to begin is making the laws work. I believe that we have laws in this country that are supposed to protect women from such abuses in their bid for power just that these laws are not enforced or that the people charged with enforcing these laws are as corrupt as the criminals themselves. When we begin to have consequences, then we can begin to have progress in the struggle to protect women from abuse on the campaign trail.
Featured image via https://www.politicshome.com.