Kenya: Government must ensure 2022 election free of sexual and gender-based violence

Simon MAINA / AFP

Paris - Nairobi, 5 August 2022. With just four days remaining until Kenya’s general election scheduled for 9 August, the presidential contest between the two leading presidential candidates is a high-stakes affair for human rights. In this final stretch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) call for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to be prepared to ensure a credible electoral process. Scrutiny from all international partners and civil society organisations (CSOs) is needed to make sure Kenyans do not experience yet another episode of post-election violence.

Despite the early warnings on the potential for an electoral crisis, and continued pledges by the government to address election-related sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), the run-up to the 9 August election has been marred by violence targeting women. Several rapes have been recorded during the campaign period, including four cases following the failed Jacaranda campaign rally on 19 June 2022.

Women in politics have also faced aggressive sexist language, gender-based violence, gender stereotyping, online gendered abuse and sexual harassment — including sexual overtures as they were seeking party certificates to vie for leadership positions. These tactics deliberately prevent women politicians or candidates from participating in politics.

Wavinya Ndeti, a candidate vying for the Machakos Governor position against three male candidates, has faced an offensive campaign branding her as an outsider for having been married to a man of a different ethnicity, with voters urged not to vote for her as a result. Similarly, when Martha Karua was selected as the running mate for one of the leading presidential candidates, Raila Odinga, she faced backlash and derogatory remarks from opposing political parties. Moreover, during the public campaigns, male politicians have sarcastically referred to their male opponents as "women", to depict them as weak men.

"Female politicians have faced unprecedented levels of violence"

These cases are far from isolated and illustrate how, since the 2013 elections, “female politicians have faced unprecedented levels of violence, apparently designed to discourage them from vying for office or, once there, from defying the agendas of powerful male political elites”. [1] Along with such violence against women attempting to enter or remain in politics, survivors of election-related SGBV are also denied rights in seeking to obtain justice. In its 2013 final report, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) [2] pointed out the “clear patterns of consistent and widespread sexual violence targeting women and men during electioneering periods as well as during ethnically and politically-instigated conflict that have over time characterised Kenya’s elections”. At the time of writing, none of the recommendations issued in FIDH’s and KHRC’s January 2022 joint report had been genuinely implemented by the authorities.

“The failure by the government to curb the targeting of women in politics and to hold perpetrators accountable for election-related sexual and gender-based violence has enabled repeat violations in subsequent elections”, said FIDH Vice-President Sheila Muwanga.

“Ahead of next week’s election, the government of Kenya must send a clear message and do everything in its power to prevent the recurrence of such violence.”

Sheila Muwanga, FIDH vice-president

The use of sexual violence as a political tool in Kenya’s elections

In January 2022, FIDH and KHRC, its member organisation in Kenya, released a report detailing findings on the use of sexual violence as a political tool in Kenya’s elections. The findings expressed particular concern on the government’s lack of action to address SGBV committed in the context of the 2017 election, as was the case with previous elections.

“Elections in Kenya always pose a particular threat to women and girls due to the risk of experiencing election-related sexual and gender-based violence.”

Davis Malombe, executive director, Kenya Human Rights Commission

“Previous elections, held in 2007 and 2017, were conducted in a similarly volatile context, where election-related SGBV was witnessed before and after the election, especially in areas that had been identified as hotspot areas”, added Davis Malombe.

Despite documentation of violence by various stakeholders including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) — which documented 201 election-related SGBV cases in 2017, of which 54.5% directly implicated security agents — to date, the government has taken no action to ensure justice for the survivors.

To prevent history from repeating itself in the 2022 presidential election, FIDH and KHRC urge the government to take the following urgent actions to prevent, protect, and respond to election-related SGBV:

- Ensure that all security personnel being deployed during the election to secure peace have been trained on human rights on how to recognize and respond to cases of election-related SGBV.
- Ensure that all security personnel being deployed during the election to secure peace are instructed clearly that human rights violations and SGBV by security personnel will not be condoned and perpetrators will be investigated and prosecuted.
- Publicly share information of security personnel with the media, and display the information at public health institutions, police stations, polling stations, and constituency tallying centers. The information should particularly provide details of commanders who will be deployed in the hotspot areas identified by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), during and after the election.
- Ensure all police gender desks and the Policare centres are operational. Adequate personnel should serve the public 24 hours a day, if violence breaks out before or after the election. Gender-sensitive measures should be put in place to ensure appropriate support to survivors, including adequately resourcing the institutions with P3 forms and post rape emergency kits.
- Ensure gender violence recovery centers (GVRCs) are well prepared at the national and county levels to offer appropriate assistance to survivors of election-related SGBV.
- Communicate to the public on measures for survivors to receive health assistance in the event of election-related SGBV cases.
- Take public measures to ensure election-related SGBV will be investigated and prosecuted, including information on special prosecutors and magistrates that will be deployed to handle election-related SGBV.
- Ensure measures are put in place to assist potential victims, taking into account practical considerations, so they can address the structural and other barriers survivors face when trying to report violations and seek assistance.
- Ensure the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) documents all cases of police-perpetrated election-related SGBV and refer them promptly to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).
- Initiate investigations and prosecutions on the cases of violence perpetrated against women in politics, that are already in the public domain.
- Ensure a conducive environment for civil society organisations monitoring and reporting SGBV and other human rights violations during the elections.

We urge the East African Community (EAC), African Union-EAC-COMESA joint observation mission, the European Union Election Observation Missions and the United Nations to take the following actions to reinforce the need for effective prevention, protection, and response to election-related SGBV:

- Ensure that their respective observation mandates include monitoring and documentation of election-related SGBV, and that a thematic section on the findings is included in the summative mission reports.
- Request prompt action from the government to prevent, mitigate, and respond to election-related SGBV.
- Collaborate with and support national CSOs’ observation and monitoring SGBV and other election-related violence to amplify their findings.

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statement