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'You sound like an apologist, not a leader' - female politician speaks about Kenya's 2013 elections

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 6 Dec 2013 12:30 PM
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A woman waits outside a tallying centre with a Kenyan police officer guarding the gate at Mathare slum in Nairobi March 6, 2013, following the elections. REUTERS /Karel Prinsloo
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NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Roza Buyu has run for parliament twice in Kenya’s western city of Kisumu. Both times she lost.

She spoke about how negative propaganda has sabotaged her campaigns at the launch of a report about women’s participation in the March 2013 elections. Female candidates in Kenya face many barriers, including violence, cultural and social stereotypes, lack of money and lack of political connections.

“In 2007, I had gone through a lot of violence and I had learned from that. I promised myself, if it means a goat has to die every day to feed the security men who are going to protect me, I was going to do it.

I did it for one month, killed a goat every day to feed the men who were acting as my security, and paid each of them for 30 days.

But what I didn’t realise was [I had] to sharpen my propaganda machinery. Propaganda was just rife.

‘This woman, this is her fourth husband [they said]. Her three husbands died. This one has inherited her [a Luo custom where a widow is ‘inherited’ by her late husband’s brother who will provide for her]. So she is really not married in this place. She is really not one of us. She doesn’t come from here.’

Propaganda hit me like crazy. And the problem with that is you waste so much money trying to bring down this propaganda at the expense of selling your agenda. You sound like an apologist. You don’t sound like a leader. I even had to carry my husband [along to rallies].

As you fight the rumours, the man [politician] is actually going around selling his policy. You look like you are just a woman with nothing to offer whereas the man is talking about issues.

Politics is very difficult for women. There is one fundamental thing that stops women from realising their full potential – most of our political parties are male dominated.

When a woman gets into the political party and tries to push like a man, so that she can gain her position within that political party, it raises a lot of suspicion. She is always perceived to be looking for men [sexually] within that political party.

She will stop herself from pushing forward because she has her reputation to protect and she doesn’t want to be hit too hard.

In 2013, I got the ODM (Orange Democratic Party) nomination. It is expected that when you get a nomination from the ODM party [in its stronghold of Kisumu] that you are an automatic winner in the general election.

But I did not win, simply because of patriarchy and the coalition politics. When I got the certificate of ODM, my main rival – who is currently the MP of Kisumu West constituency – went into FORD Kenya, which was a coalition partner.

He was campaigning using the colour orange [ODM’s colour] because we are predominantly an ODM region. People were actually confused. They didn’t know who the ODM candidate is. People thought he’s still in ODM.

The electoral code of conduct is so clear. It offers guidelines and it recognises and identifies all the offences.

But each time you went to the IEBC [Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission] official, even when you carried the orange caps that FORD Kenya – whose main colour is green – was using to confuse voters, they didn’t do anything.

If you even took them to the site to show them my billboard has been destroyed, they just don’t do anything.

A lot of unfairness against women goes on because officials do not care.”

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