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Kenya: Right groups warn of violence against women during elections

Supporters wear fabric portraying a local female candidate for the member of parliament as they wait for a rally of candidate William Ruto in Thika, Kenya on August 03, 2022   -  
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Verbal attacks, harassment and even rape: women have been victims of violence during the election campaign in Kenya, two human rights organizations warned Friday, three days before the August 9 vote.

The campaign "has been marred by violence against women" despite warnings and promises by the government to tackle the problem, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the NGO Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) said in a statement.

They mention "several" cases of rape during the campaign, including four cases on the sidelines of a meeting finally cancelled on June 19.

Kenya is holding its general elections on Tuesday, which will see 22.1 million voters choose their president, as well as their members of parliament, governors and some 1,500 local elected officials.

Women candidates - three of whom are running as running mates for presidential candidates - have been "confronted with sexist and aggressive language, (...) gender stereotyping, online gender abuse and sexual harassment," the two organizations say.

They believe that "these tactics are deliberately used to prevent women politicians or women candidates from participating in politics.

Elections in Kenya have repeatedly resulted in outbreaks of violence, including gender-based and sexual violence.

During the 2007-08 post-election crisis, which left more than 1,100 people dead, at least 900 people were sexually assaulted, including gang rape and castration, according to human rights groups.

During the violence following the 2017 election, sexual violence against women and girls was widespread, according to KHRC, which documented 201 cases of election-related sexual and gender-based violence.

More than half of the attacks involved security forces and "to date, no action has been taken by the government to ensure justice for victims," the statement said.

"The government's failure to curb the targeting of women in politics and to hold perpetrators accountable (...) has allowed the violence to recur," said FIDH Vice President Sheila Muwanga.

Last month, UN experts urged Kenyan authorities to "ensure that women can freely participate in the electoral process without discrimination, harassment or fear of possible recurrence of sexual and gender-based violence.

In 2020, a Nairobi court ordered the government to compensate four women who were victims of the wave of sexual violence that took place after the 2007 vote.

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