By: Samwel Owino
The security of women candidates in the forthcoming Kenya elections has been guaranteed as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has sent out a stern warning to male political rivals and their supporters against harassing their women opponents during this campaign period.
Speaking in Nairobi during a meeting of women candidates vying for various political seats in the General elections on Tuesday, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati urged women candidates to report any kind of harassment during campaigns so that action can be taken against the perpetrators of violence.
“Our office is always open, report any kind of harassment and we will fully enforce the electoral code of conduct,” Mr. Chebukati said.
“As a woman candidate, do not just sit back when you feel your right has been infringed on, report to us and action will be taken immediately,” Chebukati told the women politicians.
The tough talk by the electoral commission comes three weeks after women candidates in Embu complained over bullying on social media and physical harassment by their rivals, especially in rallies.
Susan Nyagah who is vying for the woman representative seat on a Kanu ticket said they are harassed simply because they are women and find it hard to campaign because they are afraid of the attacks.
In the concluded party primaries, most women across the country said they had to contend with various forms of violence, political thuggery, and intimidation, including sexual harassment, meted on them by their male opponents and their supporters with a view to discouraging them from the race.
Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo, for instance, narrated how her bodyguard was killed and her house torched by supporters of her rival during her party’s primaries.
“Party primaries were hectic for us but we made it and the last stretch will even be more bruising but stay strong,” Ms. Odhiambo told the candidates.
In his address, Mr. Chebukati said the commission will offer a level playing ground to all candidates without favoritism. “As a commission, we promise to cater for all candidates equally,”
On his part, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery said security of women candidates will be enhanced during this campaign period.
“Men too face threats during campaigns but I understand that the risk faced by women is higher compared to their male counterparts and as a ministry, we will protect women candidates,” Mr. Nkaissery said.
“Security of women candidates will be beefed up depending on the level of threat they face,” added Mr. Nkaissery.
Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs counterpart Sicily Kariuki said no form of violence should be directed to women as they campaign in various parts of the country.
“As we prepare for the last leg of the political journey, women candidates will not have it easy especially during campaigns but no violence should be subjected to any women, let all candidates compete on policies and ideologies,” Mrs. Kariuki said.
The CS urged all women candidates to support one another and focus on delivering more seats. “You have overcome the first hurdle of party primaries, you need to remain focused, resolute regardless of the political affiliation,”
Mrs. Kariuki pointed out that patriarchal society, money-driven politics in the country and bias of media coverage have been a major hindrance of women propelling to positions of leadership.
Kenya Women Parliamentary Association members chairperson Cecily Mbarire said she will campaign for all women candidates despite their political affiliation.
Mbarire said all she wants is an increase in the number of elected women in parliament and not on which political party.
UN Women Country Director Zebib Kavuma said they will support women in coining election campaign messages, capacity building forums and help in campaigns.
Mr. Nkaissery also announced that stern action against individuals using abusive language against their rivals, including heckling them at rallies.
He urged candidates, especially women, to equip their campaign teams in rallies with recorders to capture those heckling or using abusive language towards them and present the evidence to police for immediate action.