Elections in Kenya 2022: Harassed and abused female politicians in Kenya struggle to get elected

Omar hails from Lamu, a conservative region near the border with Somalia best known for its preserved Swahili culture and a UNESCO heritage site.

“If we are to solve the problems we face as women, youth and indigenous people, we must also take part in the political battle,” she tells CNN.

The 39-year-old woman is the first female candidate in the coastal district for a top job. She holds the record for the most women running in Kenya’s August 9 general election.

She says she’s running for office as a natural promotion after seven years of providing “patch solutions.” for poor health care.

“Being able to really get into the root causes of problems in rural areas is what definitely pushed us into politics,” says Omar.

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But she has an uphill battle ahead of her.

Although women are almost half registered voters, Kenya still has fewest elected female leaders in East Africa.
constitutionally empowered gender quota to break the vast majority of men in power has consistently failed over the 12 years that have passed since its adoption.

But these choices may be different.

“Kenya is ready for women at all levels”

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

When she ran for president alone in 2013, Carua received less than 1% of the vote, finishing in a distant sixth place behind five men.

Veteran politician and former Justice Minister Martha Karua addresses a crowd during a campaign rally at Kirigiti Stadium August 1 in Kiambu, Kenya.  If elected, she will become the country's first female Vice President.

In the 25 years since a woman first ran for President of Kenya, this is the closest candidate to the first candidate.

Karua bristles when asked if Kenya is ready for a female president like her neighbor Tanzania.

“This question suggests that women should not be on the ballot because I never questioned if Kenyans were ready for another man. So the issue itself is discriminatory,” Kenya’s former justice minister told CNN.

Tanzania's Samia Suluhu Hassan sworn in as first female president

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

Her nomination energized Odinga’s campaign and excited many women, some of whom compare her to US Vice President Kamala Harris.

In her three decades of work in Kenyan politics, Karua has earned a reputation as a principled politician and the nickname “Iron Lady” – a nickname she hates.

“This name speaks of misogyny in society. Strength is not perceived as a woman, strength is perceived as a man,” Carua tells CNN, pointing out that the first time the name was used to describe former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who came to power in 1979.

“It speaks to the misogyny and patriarchy that rules the world,” she says.

“The Systematic Exclusion of Women”

Although the number of women entering Kenya’s political sphere has grown over the years, only 23% of seats in the last parliament were held by women. This includes women’s representative positions, which are reserved exclusively for them: 47 out of 349 seats are currently reserved for women in this position.

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“We are seeing more and more women running, which tells us that women’s desire to participate in politics has never been a problem,” says Marilyn Kamuru, a lawyer and writer on women in politics. “It’s still a problem of the systematic exclusion of women.”

This exception includes financial barriers to participation in campaigns that are notoriously expensive, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as regular violence used against women running for office and even those already in office. For example, in 2019, a member of the Kenyan Parliament was arrested for allegedly hitting and swearing at a female colleague.

“It cools the environment for women, makes women think again, hold back,” and consider running for lower positions or dropping their campaigns altogether,” Kamura says.

The last election cycle followed a familiar pattern: many women reporting violence or threats of physical harm and misogyny were used to scare them out of the race.

“We’ve had some serious, mind-blowing character kills, to the point of discrediting the work we’ve been doing with Safari Doctors, but we’re trying not to let that distract us,” says Omar.

She laments the propaganda used against her in the race, including taboo accusations such as “recruiting” LGBT people or a drug dealer to derail her campaign.

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Women in rural Kenya find it harder to participate in politics due to sociocultural barriers, Daisy Amdani, women’s rights advocate and executive director of the Nairobi Foundation for Public Advocacy and Awareness, said CNN affiliate NTV.

“There are certain cultures that don’t even give women the right to keep their voter cards, so you need a man’s permission,” Amdani said. She added that consensual situations where others determine who will run for office also put women at a disadvantage and they are “more common than you might think.”

Despite obstacles to political office, Kenyan women persevere. “As long as we remain non-current players, the system must adapt to us,” Kamuru said.

Long awaited campaign

The role of a powerful governor, which Omar is eyeing, is considered unlikely, as only three of Kenya’s 47 districts are headed by women. One recent opinion poll took third place of four candidates but she is not discouraged.

While everyone CNN spoke to in Lamu knew she was running, some men felt she was hitting above her weight and should have been fighting for a less powerful female representative seat in the county’s parliament.

But 24-year-old Constance Kadzo, the owner of a small food stall, told CNN she was inspired to see a Swahili indigenous woman running for first place.

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