NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Kenyan member of parliament Alice Wahome spoke about the violent abuse, harassment and humiliation she has experienced as a female politician at the launch of a report about women’s participation in the March 2013 elections.
Female candidates in Kenya face many barriers, including violent attacks, cultural and social stereotypes, lack of money and lack of political connections.
Wahome is one of 16 women who were elected as a constituency MP in 2013, compared to 274 men.
“The biggest challenge is getting into the political party structure to be able to understand how a party is working. As a woman, [it’s] to be able to make an impact and [to] influence so that the party will be able to appreciate your strengths.
In 2005, I joined [political party] Narc Kenya. Come 2007, Narc Kenya was forced to join PNU [Party of National Unity in a coalition] where the mother of all battles was launched.
Coalitions pose a very big challenge. It’s so hard for a woman to actually be seen, be heard and be allowed space to participate. I was naïve in terms of what you need to do.
I was violated, I was insulted, I was hospitalised. I was one of the women who were beaten up, my hair pulled out. It’s extremely humiliating because this occurred in the PNU headquarters [on the day of the PNU nominations].
Two men came and rescued me [by taking me] into the building. I could not get out for two hours until two contingents of police vans were brought to rescue me. I lost [the PNU] nominations. My [election] petition number 20 of 2008 [challenging my rival's victory] has not been concluded.
In 2012, I went to TNA [The National Alliance political party]. This time, I was able to infiltrate into the party management and I was involved in putting up the structure for nominations. So I knew the network properly that was going to be used to come up with nominations to avoid the pitfalls I had gone through.
Therefore, I was able to emerge the winner for nominations in TNA. Coming to general elections, I won with 53,000 votes in March 2013.
Financing the campaign was my second biggest challenge. How do you finance a campaign for 10 years? From 2002, I was using my own money, family money.
The third challenge for me is how to deal with propaganda. The propaganda that was coming against me after winning the nominations was so severe and vicious, that you need to be very strong and you need to think very quickly how to react.
Things were said about me after I had won the nominations. [They said] if I win, the men would be suckling my breasts for five years while I am standing. I spent over one million shillings ($11,500) to counter that propaganda using convoys and rallies.
On the eve of the nominations, more than half of my polling stations were strewn with condoms marked with my name, as a gift from me asking the constituents to ensure that they do family planning.
Fliers would be strewn all over with all manner of derogatory messages, like I had beaten my husband up on the morning of the final elections and he was said to be hospitalised.
These gender-based insults and derogatory messages are meant to humiliate you, meant to put you in a really bad light in the presence of your voters.”