In its guidelines to journalists for proper, effective and professional coverage of this year’s General Election, the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) asks media houses to be cognisant of the fact that female journalists face peculiar dangers because of their gender while covering high-risk assignments, such as elections.
Elections campaign polling day and the consequent vote counting days are usually volatile business for journalists deployed to the mission. It’s common for emotions to get the better of candidates and their agitated supporters, resulting in violence—an uncalled for and retrogressive behaviour whose consequences are obvious.
While female journalists are able and undertake assignments of any nature including war coverage when duty calls, they are susceptible to different and greater risks particularly when covering situations of conflict such as electoral violence. The most frequent assault against women journalists include sexualised attacks, threats of rape, physical and verbal assaults also directed at their families and online trolling.
While male journalists are also victims of violence and threats at work, attacks on female colleagues are purely gender-based violence.
Violence against women
There are many examples in the Kenyan situation. The deplorable behaviour happens all the time during elections, especially in campaigns, with targeted attacks on media practitioners. Female journalists are typically an easier target for such mobsters and hoodlums. Statistics to this effect are available, the latest by the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), which terms the violations a serious concern, and Journalists for Human Rights-Kenya (JHR). It is for this reason that media houses need to take seriously, the advice by MCK on the deployment of journalists during this period, ahead of Tuesday’s poll and after. Safety and security of both female and male journalists are key, especially at these unpredictable times as Kenyans make the decision in the third election under the 2010 Constitution.
It doesn’t have to get to this though. It’s ironic that people who are in pursuit of positions of leadership are initiators of violence, which ends up hurting the very Kenyans they seek votes from. In this election, the voter needs to make a firm decision to reject such leaders and elect responsible and progressive people if the nation is to progress in aspects of governance.
One need not go far to find such retrogressive leaders. They have been heard loudly and clearly, during their campaigns as they sold whatever agenda they had, for their respective areas. Top on the list are the politicians seeking office or re-election, with campaigns structured around ethnic divisions, clanism and such like platforms, including violations of rights based on gender.
Sadly, some of the so-called leaders riding on the platform of age-old traditions such as clan fights, criminality otherwise known as “banditry’ and other forms of violence ride through to leadership, voted to the office by Kenyans.
In this group of leaders—and they must be rejected at the ballot box—are those who have thrived on propaganda, falsehoods and misinformation against competitors, risking the lives of their opponents.
Victims of propaganda
Female candidates, particularly those vying for National Assembly seats, are usually major victims of propaganda by male competitors, especially in situations where they provide stiff competition. The propagandist not only intimidates the rival, based on gender, her supporters and even family but also spreads falsehoods and threats.
In areas where the electorate is vulnerable, they generally but the common propaganda of a constituency seat being “the preserve of men with the County MP’s position (Woman Rep), as the only one reserved for women’’.
It is surprising that the lie has been repeated to the electorate since 2013 when the first election under the Constitution of Kenya 2010 was held. Such are the politicians that the voter must say no to, in addition to those seeking office by violating human rights of other Kenyans through typecasting, stereotyping and inciting hatred. The media too must play its role to the society by exposing them.
Meanwhile, Kenyans will do the country justice by voting in more women. Doing so will pave the way for more democratic governance, just and equitable nation, that is a reflection of our composition. Best wishes and good luck to all women candidates on the ballot.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor and founder, The Woman’s Newsroom [email protected]