World · August 6, 2022

Elections in Kenya 2022: harassed and mistreated, Kenyan politicians struggle to be elected

Omar is originally from Lamu, a conservative region near the border with Somalia, best known for its preserved Swahili culture and being a UNESCO heritage site.

“If we are to address the challenges we are facing as women, youth and indigenous communities, we must also take up the political battle,” she tells CNN.

The 39-year-old is the first female candidate for the highest post in the coastal county. She is among the record number of women running for office in the August 9 general election in Kenya.

He says he will run for the office as a natural progression after seven years of providing “patch solutions” for poor health care.

“Being able to really dig our teeth into the root causes of rural challenges is what has definitely pushed us towards politics,” says Omar.

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But he faces a tough battle.

Although women make up nearly half of registered voters, Kenya still has the fewest elected female leaders in East Africa.

A constitutionally imposed gender quota to break the male supermajority in power has consistently failed in the 12 years since it was passed.

But this election may be different.

“Kenya is ready for women at all levels”

If opposition leader Raila Odinga wins, Kenya could have its first female vice president in 64-year-old Martha Karua.

When she ran for president on her own in 2013, Karua got less than 1% of the vote, coming in sixth behind five men.

In the 25 years that have passed since a woman first ran for the presidency of Kenya, this is the closest she has ever gotten to first place.

Karua gets angry when asked if Kenya is ready for a female president like neighboring Tanzania.

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“This question suggests women shouldn’t be in the ballot, because I’ve never had anyone question whether Kenyans are ready for yet another male. So that question in itself is discriminatory,” the former minister told CNN. of Kenyan justice.

“I think Kenya is ready for women at all levels.”

Her appointment energized Odinga’s campaign and wowed many women, some of whom compare her to US Vice President Kamala Harris.

In her three decades of Kenyan politics, Karua has earned a reputation for principled politics and the nickname “the iron lady” – a nickname she hates.

“That name speaks to misogyny within society. Strength is not perceived as feminine, strength is perceived as masculine,” Karua tells CNN, noting that it was first used to describe former British Prime Minister Margaret. Thatcher, who came to power in 1979.

“Talk to misogyny and the patriarchy that rules the world,” he says.

“A systematic exclusion of women”

Although the number of women entering Kenya’s political sphere has grown over the years, only 23% of the seats were occupied by women in the last parliament. This includes the positions of Female Representative which are reserved exclusively for them: 47 seats out of 349 are currently reserved for women for this position.

“We are seeing more and more women running, which tells us it has never been a problem for women wanting to participate in politics,” says Marilyn Kamuru, a lawyer and writer for women in politics. “It continues to be a problem regarding the systematic exclusion of women”.

That exclusion includes financial barriers to competition in notoriously expensive campaigns that can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and regular violence against running women and even those already serving in office. For example, in 2019, a Kenyan lawmaker was arrested on suspicion of slapping a colleague and insulting her.

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“It cools the environment for women, makes them change their minds, hold back” and consider running for lower positions or abandoning their campaigns altogether, Kamuru says.

The latest election cycle followed the familiar pattern, with many women reporting violence or threats of physical harm and misogynists used to intimidate them out of the race.
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“We’ve had some amazing and important character killers, to the point of discrediting the work we’ve done with Safari Doctors, but we try not to let that distract us,” says Omar.

She complains about the propaganda used against her during the run, including taboo accusations such as being an LGBT “recruiter” or a drug dealer to derail her campaign.

It is harder for women in rural Kenya to be politically involved due to socio-cultural barriers, Daisy Amdany, women’s rights advocate and executive director of the Nairobi-based Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust, he told the CNN branch NTV.

“There are some cultures that don’t even give women the right to keep their voting cards, so you need a man’s permission,” Amdany said. She added that negotiated situations where seniors determine who can run for office also put women at a disadvantage and are “more common than you think”.

Despite the roadblocks at the political office, Kenyan women persist. “As long as we remain non-negotiable players, the system has to please us,” Kamuru said.

A long-range campaign

The role of powerful governor that Omar is eyeing is considered a shooting range as only three of Kenya’s 47 counties are led by a woman. A recent opinion poll placed it in third place out of four candidates but he is not discouraged.
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While everyone CNN spoke to in Lamu knew she was running, some men felt she was punching above her weight and would have to compete for the less powerful Women’s Representative parliamentary seat across the county.

But 24-year-old Constance Kadzo, owner of a small grocery stall, told CNN she was inspired to see an indigenous Swahili woman running for a seat at the top.

“I vote for her because she is the only woman brave enough to challenge men and I know she will fight for us.”