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Female Candidates in Kenya Say They Face Discrimination, Violence

There are a record number of women seeking office in elections scheduled in Kenya for December 27th. And they face a number of challenges on the campaign trail, including violence and discrimination. Cathy Majtenyi reports from Nairobi for VOA.

Parliamentary hopeful Ann Njogu has hit the campaign trail in earnest.

"We have 94 million shillings, 94 million shillings -- wait, 94 million shillings in the CDF. And for the bursary fund, 10 million shillings,” she tells a crowd.

This afternoon, she is meeting with a group of women voters in her Nairobi constituency of Kamakunji. At another location, the crowd thickens. Njogu has a security detail to shield her from possible attacks.

In addition to being a parliamentary candidate in Kamakunji, Njogu is executive director of the women's advocacy group, Center for Rights Education and Awareness.

Njogu calls Kenyan politics "anti-women." She describes her frustration when voters insist that her husband must grant her permission to campaign. "I never expected to be asked to produce my husband. In several times, the meetings would not start until my husband arrived. I remember one instance where we had to postpone the meeting because my husband was held up, and they would not talk to me."

When Kenyans vote on December 27th, they will choose their next president, members of parliament and civic representatives.

While both male and female candidates face potential violence on the campaign trail, threats against women are often gender specific. Njogu describes what her competitor told her friends. "He sat two of my friends [down] and told them that I could get gang sodomized or gang raped. Yes."

Philo Ikonya is campaigning in the Kiambaa constituency near Nairobi. She shows bolts that she says were loosened on her front tires with the intention of causing an accident.

Ikonya says one of her biggest challenges is to change voters' expectations that candidates need to offer bribes for votes. Many say that has been a common practice in Kenyan politics. "When you ask me for 50 shillings you are not really asking me for 50 shillings. You are asking me for a good connection, you are asking me for a bond. You are asking me for more help once you have elected me. But these other guys have been giving you a little money, then you elect them and they go. But I am promising you a lasting relationship."

Shortly after the nomination process ended in mid-November, the Electoral Commission of Kenya reported that 120 women were running for parliamentary seats in these elections as compared to 44 women in the 2002 elections. In the last parliament, there were 18 women in the legislature out of a total of 222 members.

The Electoral Commission of Kenya, along with non-government organizations and political parties themselves, offers various programs to encourage women to run for office. The commission also deals with cases of violence and other challenges.

One organization involved in the elections is the Kenyan office of the Federation of Women Lawyers, or FIDA. It is monitoring the media's election coverage, conducting voter education programs and it will observe the polls on voting day.

Moses Otsieno is an assistant program officer at FIDA. He describes what he says are the key challenges facing female candidates. "So it is mainly a lack of resources, lack of security, and the patriarchal nature of the society, which always believes that it is men who are supposed to compete for leadership positions and the position of women is in the kitchen, the background," he says.

Despite the many challenges, Ann Njogu and the other women running for office stay on the campaign trail, motivated by what they say is a chance to transform society in Kenya.