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Impt Kenya Update - Jan 31 As Violence Spreads, Women targets. especially leaders - see recent news story below

Dear all,

Below is a recent story on how women who sought office in the recent Kenya elections were subjected to higher election violence. Many of you may be following the news today and in the coming days. Today was a tragic historic day for Kenya, with the burning of a church - a first there - in which women and children who had sought refuge there were burned alive.

On a personal note, I was to travel to Nairobi next week to meet with Leah Okeyo who is on PulseWire, to share empowerment training and other resources. She lives in Migori, Western Kenya, where three people were shot recently on the election day.

I am hoping to reach Leah tonight and will continue to post my updates here about her view of the situation as the electricity is out, and there is a blackout of news -another unwelcome clampdown by the reelected administration that many world leaders have denounced.

Re background: both parties - the ruling party and oppostion-- stand accused of vote rigging in a close election that saw the president reelected. Immediate violence has followed, and there is concern that civil war may develop unless the two candidates can unify the country quickly and restore calm to the country.

Here is a link to the latest news on the church killings. It is very sad, very tragic. Below is the story on the targeting of women seeking political office there.

Stay tuned - Anne-christine

FEATURE-Kenyan women bear brunt of election violence 21 Dec 2007 16:25:15 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Wangui Kanina

NAIROBI, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Frightened by slaughterhouse workers carrying butchers knives, Angela Waweru decided to withdraw her candidacy for a Kenyan civic seat on nomination day.

Her male opponent had managed to force her out of the race.

"The polling station was near a slaughterhouse, very many boys from the slaughterhouse came wearing their blood splattered clothes, carrying big sharp butcher knives and they just hang around looking menacing," said Waweru, 48, struggling to keep her composure as she recalled the day.

"I was so afraid, they were shouting at me, 'mama go home and take care of your husband'. I gave up," she said of her decision to pull out of the running to become a councillor for her district.

Waweru is one of the unprecedented number of women running in Kenya's Dec. 27 election, when Kenyans cast their votes for a new president and parliament.

Of Kenya's 14 million voters, 6.7 million are women, yet only 18 out of the 224 members of the current parliament were women.

In contrast, neighbouring Tanzania has 61 women, Uganda 75 while Rwanda has almost secured a 50-50 parity representation -- gains mainly due to women-friendly legislation.

"I know many Kenyans feel more women MPs would strengthen the performance of the next parliament. Yet this is threatened by the unacceptable levels of intimidation facing many female aspirants," British High Commissioner Adam Wood told Reuters.

East Africa's biggest economy is a flashpoint for violence which has escalated as the campaigns for the election become more frenetic.

Hundreds of women have received threats through short text messages and phone calls, while others have been beaten, and had groups of young men shout "prostitute" as they speak at rallies.

In one case an aspiring parliamentarian was shot dead outside her sister's home in Nairobi while another was dragged from a campaign convoy and raped by a gang of gun-wielding men.

During the campaign period since September, at least 51 women have reported 255 attacks to the Gender Rapid Response Unit (GRRU), funded by the British government and set up to respond to and deal with attacks on women.

"It is like madness," said Margaret Hutchinson, executive director at the Education Centre for Women in Democracy, which hosts the GRRU.

"For the first time ever, parliament looks very lucrative. They are the most highly paid people in Kenya. The greater democratic space seen since 2002 has seen the parliament become very competitive, women are seen as an easy target," she added.

DETERMINATION

But for some women, the violence and hostility has given them the impetus to go on.

Her face swathed in bandages, and wincing in obvious pain, Martha Kibwana says a brutal attack by a gang of men who stabbed her, kicked her and left her for dead will not stop her running for councillor in Taveta, a town in Kenya's coastal province.

"I have to continue, otherwise this will have been for nothing," she said from her hospital bed. Kibwana has undergone surgery to repair her jaw, shattered during the attack.

Stephanie Ciamati, a parliamentary hopeful from the opposition Orange Democratic party (ODM) in a stronghold of President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity, faced hostility for what some said was her attempt to challenge the status quo.

After hosting ODM leader Raila Odinga at a rally in her constituency, Ciamati was attacked.

"That night a gang of men came to my house, they killed two of my dogs and were shouting abuse at me, warning me," she said. "Once they saw that I was not budging, people began warming up to me. They now respect me."

Many in Kenya's patriarchal society resist the idea of female leaders.

"Women with power are a very bad thing. They can use their political power to oppress men. They are moody, emotional and unpredictable," said Christopher Mwaura, a taxi driver in the capital Nairobi. (Editing by Bryson Hull and Elizabeth Piper)

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