Online politics: How women endure insults demeaning their sexuality

Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika addresses a political rally during a Kenya Kwanza Alliance campaign in Elburgon town, Nakuru County on April 02, 2022.

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Female politicians are the easier targets of social media bullies.
  • The bullies find it easier attacking the politicians by dragging their family into the political mud.
  • Monica Njoki, who contested in 2017 chose not to attempt a second stab at the seat, opting to watch things on the sidelines, thanks to keyboard warriors.

As the clock ticks towards the August 9 General Election, there is no doubt the bicameral parliament and the county assemblies will spot new faces, especially faces of women who are blazing it in politics.

However, going by posts and comments on social media, it is clear many a female politicians will have waded through a murky political path before clinching that victory.

Notice the barrage of abusive posts and comments and you’ll get an inkling about this. Although their male counterparts are not spared the smear, it seems female politicians are the easier targets of social media bullies.

For nominated Member of County Assembly of Nakuru from Dundori Ward, Rose Karuga Njoroge, it was the experience she underwent after she declared her intention to vie for the ward’s MCA seat. Any posts she created or those from her foot soldiers would be met with vitriolic comments, which far outmatched any positive ones.

Public leader

Ms Njoroge, who did not clinch the nomination certificate and quit the race, was not even given peace of mind when she made a post announcing her decision to support the winner, who is the incumbent.

“As a politician and public leader, I could not respond to the critics in equal abusive vein as that would have portrayed me in a different perspective and given them and political opponents the needed ammunition to keep attacking me,” she says.

Attacks would come from pseudo accounts, making it hard to know if her political opponents were behind some.

The bullies found it easier attacking by dragging her family into the political mud. They too, would dig into her past and associate her with scandalous affairs just to score a point.

“Dragging one’s family into the mud because of political stand or ideology is the most cowardly thing to do.”

Equally, Monica Njoki, who contested for the same seat in 2017 and lost, and being the only female contestants in a field with five men, agrees women politicians are easier targets of bullies compared to males.

“Their choice of words in the attacks is based on your gender. What I endured were loaded dirty words demeaning my sexuality, even directed to my family,” she says.

Opting out

This time round, she chose not to attempt her second stab at the seat instead opting to watch things on the sidelines.

“It is not that I fear such attacks. I’ve developed a thick skin to withstand such insults. Politics is exhausting, especially during campaign time that you’ve to expend yourself financially with no chance of recouping when you lose out.”

Moses Karoki, a political commentator based in Nakuru, believes that when it comes to politics, all politicians are equal and no gender should be treated in a special way over the other.

“If they’re contesting for a particular political office, the aspect of that office will not change based on which gender clinches the seat,” he says.

The same dose of invectives directed to female aspirants, he notes, is usually served in equal measure to male aspirants.

He directs this writer to a social media group where an incumbent ward representative the target of some netizens on claims of neglecting a child from his previous marriage. The post had a picture of the supposedly neglected child who is an adult male, with comments for or against the elected politician.

Opponents' tactics

When we reached out to him, the politician said it was his opponents’ tactics, through their supporters, and wondered why the same wasn’t raised back in 2017.

“It is unwise to drag one’s family in scoring political points because the target may be the innocent children and spouses who have nothing to do with politics,” Mr Karoki observes.

He notes that some of those hurling negative energy against female politicians are women.

Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, is being referred by the moniker of Wangu wa Makeri, after the colonial chief who was noted as a headstrong feminist, perhaps inferring to the claims that she has micromanaged Nakuru County politics, including installing her preferred candidates, a claim she denies.

In politics, being a female politician can be challenging. But that doesn’t stop females from delivering on their mandates or offering better leadership.