By Cathy Irungu
PERTINENT ISSUES FACING WOMEN ASPIRANTS IN THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
The following are the pertinent issues facing women in the campaign trails in Kenya as I experienced them during my campaigning in Mathira constituency
1. Societal Perceptions
Most of the voters in the rural constituency are still reluctant to elect a female leader at any level. They view being female as a weakness of the candidate and need exhaustive explanation and reassurance that the candidate is ‘serious’. This perception goes even to your campaigners and pillar who are most of the time not convinced the candidate will win despite being in the campaign and earning from it.
2. Exploitation and Infiltration
The competitors view the woman candidate as the punching bag in the campaigns. Friends and relatives of the candidate are more than willing to be used as spies and moles in the campaign team because they have little to fear in reprisals if caught.
The female candidates have the tendency of being more trusting and wishing to create lasting relationships with campaigners and political brokers. The end result is usually the female candidates being well managed by the competitors and their campaigns being sabotaged.
The cost of hiring campaigners and equipment is usually hiked for female candidates. The assumption here is that the candidate will not win and so the wisdom is eat as much as possible when it lasts. There is also the assumption that a very rich person is funding the female candidate and so the ‘free money’ has to be enjoyed. So most of the campaigners are there for money and lack any conviction the candidate can win.
3. Violence and Threats of Violence
The female aspirants are an easy target to direct violence by the competitors and thugs who have commercialized the practice. The most common forms of violence is targeting the aspirants and family members for assault. I was personally attacked once and my child targeted once. The violence is strategically used to slow you down. It also makes the female candidate’s campaign very expensive because you have to hire security to campaign in certain areas. Some people cause violence so that you can hire them for protection. The candidate also incurs extra cost in gathering intelligence before campaigning in certain areas.
4. Messaging and Propaganda
The campaign messages from the female candidates are scrutinized more for societal correctness and cherry picking any element or comments for criticism. The female candidate has to take ordinately long time preparing what to say. For example any reference to age, family, men, and societal problems elicits different and negative reactions from the voters.
Female voters are more critical of the fellow female voters. The same seriousness in scrutiny of the campaign messaging is not done for male aspirants who get away with literally everything. Moreover, the public is not necessarily interested in the manifesto of the candidate but on the mundane issues of the beauty, dressing and marital status of the candidate. Invariably, all the female candidate are recipients of lewd jokes and propaganda on them mostly targeting on their sexuality.
Claims of promiscuity and being funded by rich men and other moneyed politicians are mostly used. Another potent propaganda used to undermine the candidature of female politicians is claim that they are not serious with winning a seat and are seeking a nomination in the long run. This gets more damaging considering that the process of nomination by political parties in Kenya is characterized by acts of politicians nominating girlfriends to such positions.
Due to lack of meaningful civic education after the enactment of the constitution (2010) the public easily buys to the propaganda that every woman is aspiring for the women representative position which is not highly valued by the public. So undervalued is the post that the public suggested to the election officials on multiple occasions that ballot boxes without lids be earmarked for that positions.
A reflection of the minimal effect the post has had on the lives of the public and public perception of female leaders. On the eve of the nomination day, voters received text messages that I was seeking women representative seat.
5. Sexual Harassment
The sexual harassment takes two forms; verbal and physical. The verbal harassment takes a subtle but a very embarrassing and intimidating form where your appearance and beauty takes the centre stage and not the issues at hand. Other members of the public hurl expletives loaded with sexual undertones especially when money is not dished to them.
The physical form of sexual harassment takes the form of encroachment on personal space from admiring and ogling public, forced and attempted hugs from men, unwarranted touching and in some cases efforts put to undress you especially when campaigning in hostile territories. To compound the issue the authorities do not act on those issues or treat them with annoying casualness.
6. Family Influence
The immediate family members are overly concerned when a young female joins politics. Just like the society, the family believes the candidate is weak and cannot make it. They are overly protective which is a good thing but also interfere with the plans and strategy of the candidate and the net effect is adding up to the cost of the campaign.
When it is a female candidate contesting, the campaign usually subject the family to undue stress and it is also a soft entry point for infiltration by opponent. The female candidate also draws a lot of jealousy and hostility from the extended family who end up opposing the candidate
Most of the female aspiring politicians are not street wise enough to survive the rough and tricky terrain that is the political process in Kenya. The female candidates usually conduct some text book politics and usually following a genuine desire to serve their people and change their lives. They campaign on this platform and they usually do not indulge in other illegal but nevertheless popular activities in the campaign trail such as voter bribery, transporting of voters, sabotaging opponents and other deal making done in politics.
The female candidates honestly and expensively train their agents on observation as other competitors train them on how to undermine the will of voters using some underhand deals. Most of the female candidates are not beneficiaries of corruption and so they personally fund their campaigns from personal savings. This makes a competitive disadvantage as beneficiaries of corruption run well moneyed campaign and owing to the state of poverty in the country, money easily sways voters.