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.
Bringing together Women Candidates and Security Personnel
Next week in Mombasa a forum will be organized to bring together female candidates, security personnel and organizations supporting women’s political participation. This event provides an opportunity to begin a useful a dialogue between female candidates and security personnel. It allows the space for female candidates to candidly discuss and share their experience regarding security specific issues that have ultimately created barriers for them, and women more broadly, to freely and equally take part in the political process. Through this dialogue, security personnel began discussion about how they could work to address such issues so that the electoral space can be secure for everyone to participate.
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 can 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 and procedure for perpetrators.
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.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems developed a VAWIE Framework which represents the culmination of intensive research and fieldwork and is intended to improve the capacity of international and domestic practitioners to understand and reduce VAWIE. This framework includes the following tools:
- Typology of Electoral Violence/VAWIE: The typology includes the VAWIE definition above & expands the traditional categories of electoral violence monitoring & research efforts to encompass the nuances presented by women’s experiences.
- Assessment Methodology: The VAWIE assessment tool allows practitioners to assess, map, and program in response to the risk and/or presence of VAWIE based on the Status of Women, Women’s Political Participation, Violence Against Women in Elections & Responses to Violence Against Women in Elections.
- Monitoring Methodology: The monitoring methodology suggests new ways to gather trend information and incident-specific information to better document and analyze VAWIE. It can and should be used in any political context during all stages of the electoral cycle.
- Program Recommendations: The recommendations section addresses both using the VAWIE Framework, and improving other ways to reduce VAWIE in general.
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.
We collected 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 jumped out smashing windows of a car and drug the candidate from the vehicle;
- Women candidates were sexually harassed physically and verbally (including unwanted touching, attempts to undress the candidate, slapping and manhandling and being called a prostitute);
- Women candidates were harassed on social media;
- A body guard killed in one instance;
- The house of a female candidate was also burned down