After being harassed and abused, Kenyan female politicians face a battle for their election

Omar is native to Lamu, a conservative area near the Somali border, famous for its preserved Swahili culture and for being a UNESCO Heritage Site.

“If we want to address the challenges that we face as women, youth and Indigenous communities, we have to take the political battle as well,” she told CNN.

At 39, she is the coastal province’s first female candidate for a higher office. She is among a record number of women running for office in the August 9 general elections in Kenya.

She says she’s running for a position as a natural evolution after seven years of providing “first aid solutions” For poor health care.

“The ability to really dig our teeth into the root causes of rural challenges is definitely what drove us into politics,” Omar says.

But she faces an uphill battle.

Although women make up nearly half of the registered voters, Kenya still has the fewest elected female leaders in East Africa.
Constitutionally mandated gender quotas have failed to break the absolute male majority in power in the 12 years since they were introduced.

But this election could be different.

‘Kenya is ready for women at all levels’

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

When she ran for president alone in 2013, Karuwa received less than 1% of the vote, coming in sixth after five men.

Veteran politician and former justice minister Martha Karua addresses a crowd during an election rally at Kirigiti Stadium on August 1, in Kiambu, Kenya.  If elected, she would become the country's first female vice president.

In the 25 years since a woman first ran for the presidency of Kenya, this has been the closest seat to the highest seat.

When asked if Kenya is ready for a president, Karu makes you feel like neighboring Tanzania.

The former Kenyan minister of justice told CNN, “This question suggests that women should not be at the polls, because I’ve never had a question as to whether Kenyans are ready for another male. So this question in itself is discriminatory.”

Tanzania takes oath of office in Samia Solo Hassan as first female president

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

Her candidacy revitalized Odinga’s campaign and excited many women, some of whom compared her to US Vice President Kamala Harris.

During her three decades in Kenyan politics, Karuwa has earned a reputation as a political principle and the nickname “Iron Lady” – a moniker she hates.

“This name speaks of misogyny within society. Power is not seen as female, power is seen as male,” Karu told CNN, noting that it was first used to describe former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who came to power in 1979.

“It talks about misogyny and the patriarchy that rules the world,” she says.

Systematic exclusion of women

Although the number of women entering the political sphere in Kenya has increased over the years, only 23% of the seats were held by women in the last parliament. This includes the positions of actresses reserved exclusively for them – 47 of the 349 seats currently reserved for women for this position.

Kenyan lawmaker arrested for slapping colleague

“We are seeing more and more women running, and that tells us that there has never been a problem with women wanting to be involved in politics,” says Marilyn Camoro, a lawyer and writer on women in politics. “It remains a problem with the systematic exclusion of women.”

This exclusion includes financial barriers to competing in expensive campaigns that can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and systematic violence against women candidates and even those who actually hold office. For example, in 2019, a Kenyan parliamentarian was arrested for slapping a female colleague and calling her names.

“It cools the environment for women, it makes women think again, and take a step back,” Camoru says, considering running for lower positions or giving up their campaigns altogether.

The last election cycle followed the familiar pattern, with many women reporting the use of violence or threats of physical harm and misogyny to intimidate them out of the race.

“We’ve been subjected to a huge, staggering character assassination, to the point of discrediting the work we’ve been doing with the safari doctors, but we try not to let that distract us,” Omar says.

The publicity used against her in the race, including taboo accusations such as being an LGBT “recruiter” or a drug dealer to derail her campaign, mourns.

It is difficult for women in rural Kenya to participate in politics due to social and cultural barriers, says Daisy Amdani, a women’s rights advocate and executive director at the Nairobi-based Community Awareness and Advocacy Trust. Tell CNN affiliate NTV.

“There are certain cultures that don’t even give women the right to keep their voter cards, so you need the man’s permission,” Amdani said. She added that negotiated positions in which the elderly decide who will run for office are also detrimental to women and they are “more common than you think”.

Despite barriers to accessing political positions, Kenyan women persist. “As long as we remain non-negotiable players, the system has to accommodate us,” Camuro said.

long term campaign

The role of strong ruler that Omar aspires to is considered elusive as only three of Kenya’s 47 districts are headed by a woman. In a recent opinion poll, it ranked third Out of four candidates But she was not discouraged.

While everyone CNN spoke to in Lamu was aware she was running, some men felt she was putting pressure on her weight and should have contested a less powerful parliamentary seat at the county level.

But Constance Kadzu, 24, the owner of a small grocery store, told CNN she was inspired to see an indigenous Swahili woman running for a loft seat.

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

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