Parliament

A joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate during President Uhuru Kenyatta's State of the Nation Address at Parliament Buildings on November 30, 2021.

| Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Violence against female MPs still rampant in Africa, APU report reveals

What you need to know:

  • Document cites a case in which a Kenyan legislator twice slapped his female colleague in 2019.
  • Report shows that as of January 1, 2020, Africa had 2,834 women MPs (23 per cent), with their male colleagues at 12,113.


 

An incident in which a Kenyan MP twice slapped his female colleague within the precincts of Parliament in 2019 has been cited among the cases that contributed to increased violence against women parliamentarians in Africa.

Although the African Parliamentary Union (APU) report of November 2021 does not show how African countries fared in violence against women MPs, it only highlights few reported cases.

The study, which focused on sexism, harassment and violence against women in African parliaments, shows that the violence meted out to women MPs took place within the precincts of parliaments, on online platforms, and in their constituencies, communities, and private lives.

The findings come as it emerged that the fight to achieve women’s effective participation in decision-making is making slow progress. Women only account for 25.6 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide.

The report shows that as of January 1, 2020, Africa had 2,834 women MPs (23 per cent), with their male colleagues at 12,113. The statistics put Africa in third place globally behind the US and Europe. In Kenya, of the 349 MPs, 75 are women (21 per cent).

The Senate has 19 women legislators, accounting for 28 per cent of the 67-member House.

The report shows that 137 women MPs from 49 African countries, including Kenya and the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), participated in the study through interviews. Each country had a maximum of three women MPs. Kenya had three.

Of the 137 interviewed, 80 per cent said they had experienced psychological violence over the course of their mandate. About 67 per cent have been subjected to sexist behaviour or remarks, while 46 per cent have been targets of sexist attacks on social media.

Acts of violence

Further, 42 per cent have received death threats, rape threats or threats of beating or abduction directed at them or their loved ones.

The report also shows that 39 per cent of the women experienced intimidation or psychological harassment, another 39 per cent were subjected to sexual violence, 40 per cent have been sexually harassed and nine per cent have been affected by sextortion (requests for sexual favours). A further 23 per cent of the women MPs have experienced physical violence, with 29 per cent exposed to economic violence.

“Violence against women in politics is one of the most devastating form of abuse. It is by recognising these acts of violence that we can prevent and fight against them while combating the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators,” the report says.

The study aimed at enriching the documentation and knowledge available on violence against women in Africa’s parliaments.

On June 13, 2019, for instance, Wajir Woman Representative Fatuma Gedi, was physically assaulted by her Wajir East colleague Rashid Kassim, within the precincts of Parliament.

The incident saw female MPs walk out of the National Assembly during the afternoon sitting, in protest.

Some legislators’ attempts to have the incident investigated by the House Committee on Powers Privileges were rebuffed by House Speaker Justin Muturi, who advised that the incident was criminal and could only be handled by the police. Within hours, Mr Kassim was arrested and charged in court.

However, Ms Gedi and Mr Kassim recently had a truce brokered by their community elders and fellow politicians. Among other things, they agreed have the case withdrawn. Ms Gedi withdrew the case.

Sexually assaulted

Mr Kassim was also asked to pay a fine, though Daily Nation has no details if he paid it and the amount involved.

Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo has also previously complained about having been sexually assaulted by a male colleague, Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), during a stormy sitting of the National Assembly in December 2014.

The Hansard has captured Ms Odhiambo narrating how Mr Kuria handled her indecently. But Mr Kuria maintained that no one stripped the Suba North legislator or even attempted to as she claimed.

The incident was neither investigated by the Powers and Privileges Committee of the House nor the police.

In September 2013, Rachael Shebesh was slapped by former Nairobi Governor Dr Evans Kidero at his city county office. At the time, Ms Shebesh was the Nairobi Woman MP. The matter ended up in court, but after some time, they reached an out-of-court settlement.

The APU report, coming in the wake of the 2019 APU guidelines on violence against women MPs, paints a grim picture for aspiring women MPs at a time when Kenya and the global community are engaged in efforts to enhance women representation in the legislature. The findings further portend a worrying trend, especially for Kenya as it prepares for a general election in 2022.

In 2019, the APU published guidelines on how to combat sexual harassment and violence against women in parliament, which were to be applied by its member states.

Exposed to violence

The latest revelations, however, mean a lot still needs to be done to eradicate violence against women in politics. The study notes that MPs who took part in the survey believe the main message conveyed by “these sexist remarks” is a desire to eject them from political life.

“Many women deplore the way in which their male colleagues heckle them. Their male colleagues claim that politics is a domain reserved for men, that women are not welcome there or that they are unfit to take part.”

Such messages are based on a series of negative stereotypes, insults and practices aiming to ignore, diminish, ridicule and degrade women in politics or judge their physical appearance.

Violence against women politicians is most prevalent during electioneering. Although all politicians are exposed to violence, women bear the brunt, largely because of their gender.

The APU report comes even as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) says that its campaign against sexism and violence against women legislators has brought to light the nature and magnitude of the “long invisible scourge to reduce women to silence and exclude them from political life”.

“It is a violation of the human and political rights of women, with long-lasting and harmful effects on those affected, on democratic processes and on political institutions, as well as on society as a whole,” reads the report.

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) provides states with the first recognised definition of this type of violence, as well as a plan of action.

In Africa, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa — the Maputo Protocol of 2003 — takes the UN definition and adds the concept of economic violence. It specifies that economic violence can be perpetrated in times of peace time and conflict or war.

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