Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Why women are more careful in this coming election

When we reached out to Pamela Akoth for an interview, she was in her garden.

Ms Akoth was a victim of the 2007 post election violence, and was ready to share her story.

Today, 15 years later, her small garden is her sole source of income, after she lost her employment at a flower farm in Naivasha due to the skirmishes.

Around 3pm, an announcement was made in the flower farm that things were not good. We were then asked to go back home

Pamela Akoth

The single mother of one had to relocate to her rural home in Homa Bay County, for safety.

“Around 3pm, an announcement was made in the flower farm that things were not good. We were then asked to go back home,” she said.

She added: “There were no vehicles on the road so we trekked in bushes.”

Thoughts of rape and defilement crossed her mind putting a lot of fear in her.

Safety

At this point being close to her daughter in a safe place soon became her priority.

Being a weekend, her daughter who was in form two then, was not in school just like many other day scholars.

As we escaped, police officers were around but they were helpless. If there was a specific office where one could report to, it would have been better

Pamela Akoth

Pamela was lucky to find her daughter safe in their then rental house.

Unfortunately, a place they had called home was no longer safe for them, and took off, not leaving behind all their households. 

“As we escaped, police officers were around but they were helpless. If there was a specific office where one could report to, it would have been better,” she narrates.

Being an IDP

Before she moved to Homa Bay, she got temporary shelter for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at Longonot centers in Naivasha, together with other victims.

Here, she was processed as one of the IDPs.

Her memories are full of war scenes.

As much as she would have wished to let the sad memories fade away, this has not happened. As this year’s general election approaches, she recollects the sad memories.

“We should avoid the 2007 scenes at all cost,” she says.

She adds: “But there needs to be more concerted efforts to cover women should anything happen.”

For Waithera?

Ms Akoth’s story is no different from that of Beatrice Waithera’s.

The now women rights journalist and activist was then a form one student in Nairobi.

She was staying in Kayole Estate, which was one of the areas which recorded loss of lives and injuries due to election-related violence. 

She came face to face with the violence.

“One morning as I went to the shop, I met a man brutalized and was bleeding,” she said.

Beatrice Waithera (Photo: Courtesy)

Waithera says there is a need to respect cultural diversities, human dignity, and commitment to bringing peace during this election period.

While Kenyans are already struggling to put food on their tables due to the increased cost of living, she says life can be tougher in the absence of peaceful coexistence.

“Violence makes people go hungry because they cannot access food and their security is not guaranteed,” she says.

Waithera was recently awarded by the National Women for Peace Convention Caucus as a national peace champion.

She is currently conducting civic education, where she holds safe spaces with youths at the grassroots levels.

Empowerment

Here, the participants are empowered with knowledge on good governance and their involvement in decision-making tables.

Besides, they also discuss the setbacks that are pulling them back in the community. 

Waithera says that for the last two years, these sessions have given the youths a gratifying space.

Discussions about peace as an integral part of safeguarding women and youths’ rights are the main areas of her focus.

“As young people, we are learning a lot from the past generation. It is time that Kenyan youths remain vigilant and guard their country and by all means, refuse to be used as tools to spread violence in Kenya,” she says.  

Just like Akoth, Waithera also says that if there was a hotline or a signal call that people could use for reporting violence cases, more lives could have been saved.

It is the challenges that people like Akoth and Waithera experienced in the 2007 post-election violence that have prompted the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) to establish a team of eminent women to preach the gospel of peace.

Women Situation Room

The team operates under a program known as Women Situation Room (WSR), a women’s peace building mechanism to mitigate conflict before, during, and after elections in African countries. 

Dr Grace Ongile, the adviser for the implementation of the women leaders’ involvement in peace says gender monitors for peace have also been trained across respective counties in Kenya.

They will be at different polling stations on the election day and will use a tool known as incidence form, to record cases of violence targeted at women.

Women’s role in society is extremely important and when there is war, there are many issues that come with it. With this program in mind, we are going to see how best to capture and amplify the voices of women during the elections

Dr Grace Ongile

“This form will help capture what is not going right for women as voters and aspirants. The person in charge should be able to record and convey that message to us in that room where we’ll be as the eminent people,” Dr Ongile said.

She describes WSR as a useful platform that gives women space to talk.

Part of the gender monitors for peace are police officers.

Dr Ongile, says this will see perpetrators of violence get arrested.

She adds that the eminent team will also ensure that women get help in situations where they will need to be taken to hospitals.

“Women’s role in society is extremely important and when there is war, there are many issues that come with it. With this program in mind, we are going to see how best to capture and amplify the voices of women during the elections,” she says.

Women issues in election

Irine Kizito, the Deputy Executive Director at the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya says WSR is very critical in this General-Elections because women’s issues are very different from those of the general public.

She says the council would like women to take an active role in the early response and rolling of any issues that may jeopardize peace in the communities.

“I believe that in the past we were caught unaware because many women did not think they could play a role in mitigating some of the things that happened,” she says.

She adds: “We are now taking leadership and also training other women to take leadership and manage situations from wherever they are.”

“the program is about securing peaceful elections because women do not want their children and community to suffer.”

WSR was first used in Liberia in the 2011 General Elections before it was replicated in Senegal and Sierra Leon respectively in 2012.

Undated picture of demonstrators during 2007 post election violence. (Photo: Courtesy)

Kenya replicated it in the 2013 and 2017 General Elections.

The Kenya National Peace and Security chair under the Ministry of Interior Shamsha Abubakar says a lot has been done to make the program more effective in the country.

These include the introduction of the KoboCollect Application that will be used to collect information in the field before submitting to the eminent team in the WSR.

“This KoboCollect tool gives us options to report the perpetrators, type, and extent of harm done to the woman, whether the woman is a candidate, a voter or a standby woman,” said Abubakar.

She explains. “It also gives us the option to indicate where the incident took place, the County, time, the witnesses identity and telephone numbers.”

Other countries that have also replicated the WSR are Nigeria in 2015, and Uganda and Ghana both in 2016.

Shamsha Abubakar addressing trainees at the WSR monitoring training program. (Photo: Mary Ndulili)

Election monitoring skills

Despite the program having been applied in Kenya during the two previous General Elections, Abubakar says women who were assigned then did not have enough skills.

This made it hard for them to report appropriately.

“This toolkit will be a matrix for us to know how many cases have been reported,” she says. 

WSR is a non-partisan and neutral process at all times.

It mobilizes women in collaboration with youth to ensure their active participation in peaceful electoral processes.

It gets its mandate from the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) of the African Union, which affirm the role of women in the peace process and peace building in their countries.

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