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The Online Violence Faced By Women In Politics

On online gender based violence, the trends, and the perpetrators.

BY Beryl Karimi-La Patrona

Feb 06, 2023, 07:51 AM

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Despite the efforts that have been made to bridge the inequality in political leadership, the face of politics is still very much male everywhere across the world, especially in Africa.

We have very few women getting into political power and the few that are there are not enough to shift society's societal bias toward female leadership. If anything, their participation in politics exposes them to violence in both online and offline spaces to bully them into feeling they do not belong in politics. 

That makes it a very gendered war and here I break down how the attacks usually manifest themselves on social media in six different ways.

Attacks On Their Level Of Intelligence

According to society, a woman cannot be both beautiful and intelligent. It is mainly why the compliment, "beauty with brains," exists in the first place.

Women in politics are often met with accusations of being bimbos. They are called airheads and anything they say is met with uncalled criticism, usually aggressive. 

Attacks On Their Marital Status 

In the 2022 general election, a Kenyan veteran politician with decades of experience ran for the post of deputy president. 

She is divorced and because she is, it was a talking point at every other rally. Her opponents shamed her for not being part of the cliché nuclear family set up with a man as its head, and on social media, she was shamed for being a single mother as if that invalidates the role she has played in shaping the political sphere of this country.

That is what female politicians contend with every other day. If you are not married, it automatically makes you unqualified for a post in the office. If you do not have children, your lack of them gets weaponized. It isn't once when I have seen a female politician being insulted for being barren. 

Claims They Are Irresponsible 

Campaigns require a high level of commitment. The long hours at work come at a cost to the family and while men are allowed to get away with this, women are never given the same grace. 

They are accused of not caring for their children and being irresponsible wives. They are admonished for abandoning their kids with their partners and if the roles were reversed, the wife would be getting flowers for being a supportive spouse. 

Sexualized Attacks 

In Kenya, the female politicians who got into power due to nominations are always being accused of having sex to get ahead. 

Men are also nominated in the same measures, and sometimes through unscrupulous means and it is never a cause for alarm for anyone. 

No one asks about their merits or lack thereof, or who they slept with to get the seats. This particular form of scrutiny is meant for women only because promiscuity is the surest way to throw dirt on the legitimacy of a female politician. 

Attacks On Their Body/Physical Appearance

Apart from being excellent at their jobs, female politicians have to dress in the best designer suits, be fit, have manicured nails, and wear make-up in its perfect sense. 

Their wardrobes are a topic of concern and sometimes it is the only thing the world focuses on as if what they think of the policies they stand for aren't what should matter.

Ironically enough, women who meet beauty standards and who live up to the expectations society has for them on dress codes, never escape online abuse either. The world that asks them to dress well turns around like clockwork to call them bimbos who only care for their appearance.

Read More: Cebbie Koks Nyasego: Thoughts On Online Violence