By Daniel Wesangula
NAIROBI, May 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Kenyan government should protect women politicians from harassment, beatings and intimidation in the countdown to August polls, female candidates have said following a spate of attacks and at least one death related to the election.
"The dangers that women aspirants face are unacceptable and have been tolerated for far too long," said Esther Passaris, who was targeted while campaigning at the weekend for one of Kenya's women-only seats. "Something must be done."
Passaris was locked in a room at the University of Nairobi on Saturday by a group of men demanding 150,000 Kenyan shillings ($1,450) to allow her to hold a planned rally. The door was eventually unlocked when her supporters overpowered those of her opponent.
Kenya created 47 women's representative seats in 2013 to boost women's numbers in parliament.
The country has East Africa's lowest female representation in parliament - at 19 percent - and women have struggled to make gains in the face of violence, intimidation and sexism.
During chaotic primaries last month a bodyguard for Millie Odhiambo, member of parliament for Mbita in western Kenya, was run over and killed by an opponent's vehicle. A few days later her house was razed.
"We are appalled by the inaction of police over the violence," Josephine Mongare, chairwoman of the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"They are showing no sense of urgency in this selective violence targeting women that has already resulted in loss of life and threatens to spill over to more women."
Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said women were not the only victims of political violence.
"We cannot have a special police force for any particular group of candidates whether male or female," he said.
"Candidates should take personal responsibility and avoid provoking opponents."
Women aspirants suffered targeted attacks in Kenya's primaries, the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said on Monday, including assault, a death threat and burning of property.
It called on the government to de-register candidates and parties involved in the violence.
Kenya charged 62 people this month with offences linked to party primaries, including bribing voters and inciting violence.
Sarah Korere, who is standing for member of parliament in the northern region of Laikipia, had the contents of her car looted last month while out campaigning.
"There were about three vehicles full of young and very drunk men saying they can't agree for a woman to address them," she said.
Korere said that since becoming a legislator in 2013 she had been shouted down and called a prostitute at public meetings and cursed by elders.
"They used to scare me a lot but with time I learned that I have to brush it off," she said, adding that she now pays for up to 100 men to accompany her to public events, in addition to her armed government bodyguard.
"We are getting used to it and we are also counteracting ... They see you have got a bigger crowd than theirs, then they go slow on this abuse."
(Reporting by Daniel Wesangula. Editing by Katy Migiro and Emma Batha.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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