Recently a non-governmental organisation went to West Pokot to conduct some activities around women’s empowerment. As part of the requirements for the activities, the women were supposed to have identification cards. However, when they were asked to produce them, none had. They promised to bring the IDs the next day. Come the following day, the women came to the workshop accompanied by their husbands, who were each holding an ID that belonged to their wives.
Shocked and concerned about the situation, the officials of the NGO asked the women why IDs were in the custody of their husbands, to which the women replied that was the order of the day.
The issue of men holding women’s IDs might remotely relate to how women get involved in electoral process which starts with getting the ID itself, participating in the voter registration, election campaigns and the voting on the polling day.
Experience has shown how Ids are used by men as a tool to exercise their power. During elections, they used it to ensure the woman votes the person or party the husband is supporting. When a woman refuses, then the consequences are grave, She is chased away or beaten or both.
This is because electoral processes always make women more vulnerable and insecure. Within their families, wives tend to be coerced into voting in a particular way. A research on Gender Monitoring of the 2002 General Elections in Kenya done by African Woman and Child Features had very interesting findings.
Some of the women who would like to vie for various political positions are intimated by their husbands. It ends up in violence when the woman defies his order and goes to vie for a political post. It is even worse when the woman vies against the husband’s relative or clan member. They are divorced or forced to separate as a punishment for disobedience.
Words like “how can we allow women to come and lead us as if there are no men here” are commonplace. This statement and many others have denied the society women with brilliant leadership qualities.
It has become fashionable to subject a woman who chooses to be part of a campaign team for a particular politician to gender based violence because they have come late in the evening or seen to be having a sizeable amount of cash. They are accused of having gained this money through extra-marital affairs. Many are beaten up or subjected to verbal violence by their male partners or even in-laws. No wonder many campaigns and rallies do not have many women in attendance.
During the past elections the common answer given by women why they do not participate in political campaigns and rallies is that it is a man’s thing. During the polling day itself, cases of women who have woken up so early to beat the long queues being raped have been reported. And while on the queue itself women are always subjected to pushing and shoving or indecent behaviour which at times can be humiliating.
I remember during the last election at a polling station how women who were shoved and subjected to some form of violence went back home. They did not vote.
How free and fear an election can be is not just about events that happen on the polling day, but it encompasses events that occur throughout the electoral process. This is where women are most affected and majority suffer in silence.
To ensure that the 2013 General Elections is free and fair, the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will have to ensure that gender principle and guidelines informs their work and interventions during the electoral process.
It is only through the use of gender lens in the final analysis can a country conclusively say whether an election is free and fair.