Report: Violence being used to force women out of ballots

Esther Kipng'etich, an aspirant for United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party, expresses her frustrations after police disrupted a meeting in Nyali, Mombasa, on June 3, 2021.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The large number of women entering the political environment as elected or nominated leaders has fuelled cases of violence against women in politics as indicated by the report.
  • Organisations warn that if left unchecked, violence could have adverse aftermaths specifically undermining women participation in the electoral processes.

Surging violence against Kenyan female politicians is meant to force them to surrender, two human rights groups have said.

In a report titled Sexual Violence as a Political Tool During Elections in Kenya, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) note significant cases of violence against women aspirants and those elected and nominated.

“According to some academics, the implementation of quotas, in particular political environments where sexism is rampant, can ‘trigger various forms of backlash and resistance to women’s political integration, ranging from explicit acts of violence and harassment to sexism in media coverage and social media platforms, directed at women as women with the purpose of leading them to withdraw from political life’.

“In the Kenyan context, academics have observed that ‘violence directed against women in politics is, in part, a reflection of a deeper effort to deny women access to political spaces that have traditionally been dominated by men’ and this particular type of violence ‘is becoming increasingly normalised’,” the report reads.

Other than intimidation, it says violence symbolises “a reactivation of patriarchal efforts to police women’s bodies and rights through whatever means possible”.

It’s not all gloom and doom

Although Kenya is still far from realising gender parity, a greater number of women have navigated their way into the political arena, thanks to the 2010 Constitution.

The large number of women entering the political environment as elected or nominated leaders has, however, fuelled violence against them as indicated by the report.

 “Cases of Kenyan female politicians experiencing significant forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) have been documented. Since the adoption of the 2010 Constitution and the introduction of quotas for elective or nominated positions, violence against women politicians has been even more rampant, in particular during elections, with reports of women being verbally and physically attacked, including by male colleagues,” it said.

The report warned that if left unchecked, violence could have adverse aftermaths specifically undermining women participation in the electoral processes.

“Most of the women interviewed by FIDH and KHRC reported that they no longer have any interest in participating in electoral processes. Some survivors indicated they would not vote again for fear for their lives and those of their families.

“The fact that State agents are among those responsible for insecurity and the perpetration of SGBV, without being held to account, acts as a further deterrent for women’s participation in political life. To some extent, this leads to jeopardising actions carried out over years by women in Kenya aimed at opening up spaces for women’s participation in the political process,” the report states.

Moreover, the organisations have expressed apprehension that there could be a repeat of extreme cases of violence against women witnessed in previous post-election chaos if the government will not act swiftly to institute preventive measures ahead of the August 9 General Election.  

Police on the spot

A survey conducted by FIDH and KHRC indicated that most cases of gender violence in the 2013 and 2017 general elections took place in the opposition stronghold areas of Kisumu, Vihiga and Migori.

Of 79 interviewed survivors aged 45 and below, the majority identified police officers as the perpetrators, while in a few instances in Migori, the survivors also referred to “security” or “government” officers.

“Survivors described perpetrators as wearing police uniform, green jungle uniform, Administration Police Service (AP) or General Service Unit (GSU) uniforms. Survivors indicated perpetrators were armed with weapons, such as guns, rungu, jembe, 75 tear gas canisters, batons and/or knives,” it says.

“In the majority of cases, survivors indicated that perpetrators came in groups. Most of the survivors interviewed in Migori and Vihiga reported having seen police cars, trucks, green lorries or land cruisers, sometimes with Government of Kenya number plates, before the incident, while in Kisumu, survivors reported they came on foot.”

Over 180,000 police officers were deployed in preparation for the elections, according to KNCHR. Of the cases of sexual violence documented by KNCHR, 54.5 per cent were perpetrated by security agents, and 45.5 per cent by civilians.

Similarly, as reported by HRW, half of the women interviewed said they were raped by policemen or men in uniform.

“One survivor interviewed by FIDH and KHRC in Vihiga said she knew the perpetrator as he was a police officer at Vihiga police station, and one survivor in Kisumu said the perpetrator knew her. In Migori, some of the survivors said perpetrators were not from the local or ordinary police, so they did not recognise them.”

Calls for amendment

The report said massive deployment of security agents, who were unknown to the local population, contributed to limiting the possibility of survivors identifying perpetrators.

In 2018, FIDH and KHRC documented a report, which illustrated how the government’s tendency to conduct joint security operations, involving several services, have the effect of creating confusion to the chain of command.

“Our organisations noted that ‘the approach by the police has been to deploy the specialised units to deal with an insecurity incident within their line of specialisation and if they are unable to contain the issue to call for reinforcement from the other units.’ This has sometimes led to instances where it becomes impossible to apportion responsibility to the units, leading to unaccountability for violations that may result during the security operations.”

The report has proposed the Sexual Offences Act be amended to acknowledge and address the unique circumstances of sexual violence committed during crises or conflicts, in particular to alter the evidentiary threshold for the prosecution of such offences.

It has also called for coordination between the national and county governments in the elimination of SGBV to guarantee that interventions are localised and have a direct positive impact on survivors of sexual violence.

Addressing the root causes of election-related SGBV, including focusing on the prevalence of misogyny and patriarchy within the political sphere, enhancing prevention mechanisms by activating and coordinating key departments in readiness to prevent and respond to cases of election-related SGBV are some of the other recommendations in the report.

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