Electoral Security and Women
Any harm or threat of harm committed against women with the intent and/or impact of interfering with their free and equal participation in the electoral process during the electoral period. It includes harassment, intimidation, physical harm or coercion, threats, and financial pressures, and it may be committed in the home or other private spaces, or in public spaces. These acts may be directed at women in any of their roles as electoral stakeholders (e.g. voters, media, political actors, state actors, community leaders, or electoral officials).
Why is it important to understand VAWIE?
Violence against women in elections affect women’s participation in the electoral process as voters, candidates, election officials, activists and political party leaders and therefore threaten the integrity of the electoral process, as well as the commitment of governments to a free, fair and inclusive democratic process. For every public documented violent incident, there are more incidents occurring in private, with scarce documentation and, even worse, without adequate services to meet survivors’ needs.
Globally, we know that men and women experience election violence. However, research in Kenya and in other places around the world show that women experience violence differently compared to men. In the electoral process, this manifests itself in several different ways. Consider the following examples:
- Male officials have asked for sexual favors and bribes from women when they tried to register themselves as candidates.
- A female poll worker was threatened with divorce if she didn’t stuff a ballot box for the political party her husband preferred.
- A senior female leader was harassed online by her opponents who circulated doctored photos of her head on another woman’s naked body.
- Other examples can include economic and financial intimidation, harassment regarding sexual or moral purity, attacks on family members, and other familial and social sanctions.
These examples show us that women experience electoral violence in private spaces such as the home or other locations for family gatherings, as well as public spaces such as a polling station. It also shows that women are targeted because of their affiliations, but in many cases they are targeted simply because they are women participating in politics.
Toll Free 24 Hour Help Line Call 1195
Healthcare Assistance Kenya (HAK) is a national Humanitarian Organization that supports survivors of all forms of violence.
They operate the first ever Rapid Response System that monitors gender based violence trends in all 47 counties from grassroots level.
Throughout the election period, HAK will use its existing call line 1195 to provide rapid-response assistance to those experiencing violence. By doing so, HAK is bringing together its expertise on gender based violence (GBV) and response mechanism to the important issue of election violence in order to ensure women can freely take part in the election process. Given this unique opportunity, HAK is doing the following:
- Providing services that survivors of violence may need through the hotline;
- Sensitizing important community leaders in 12 counties on the specific issue of violence against women in elections in order to prevent an increase in such instances; and
- Enhancing data collection efforts of this issue so that institutions can properly address it in the long term.
VAWIE in Kenya
International and local election observers reported an increase in harassment of women during party primary campaigns, in the run – up to the elections and when pockets of post – election violence occurred.
There were reports of female candidates being:
- Mobbed by large groups of men with batons and machetes;
- Female candidate’s vehicles blocked and stoned during campaigns, and in one case attackers jumping out and smashing windows of a female candidate’s car while dragging the candidate from the vehicle;
- Women candidates being physically sexually harassed and verbally intimidated with allusions to their morality. They experienced unwanted touching/hugging, attempts to undress the candidate, slapping, manhandling and being labelled prostitutes);
- Women candidates were harassed on social media;
- A body guard killed in one instance;
- The house of a female candidate was also burned down
True democracy and representative governance requires the meaningful participation of women and men in all spheres of political, economic and social life. Nowhere is this more important than in a country’s electoral process, where active political engagement, from both women and men, strengthens a country’s democratic development. Security threats, including intimidation and harassment can deter women from equally taking part in the political process. It is therefore imperative for security personnel and stakeholders to understand how to address this problem.