The data collected from the Elections Observation Group from the 2017 Kenya Elections shows that from its observation efforts women who were candidates experienced violence more frequently than women exercising their rights as voters.




For the first time in its history, Kenya elected three women to the Senate, and three women as Governors. The number of women elected to parliament also increased, from 16 in 2013 to 23 in the 2017 elections. In the Senate, there were 18 reserved women’s seats and three women were elected in the open competition seats. In the National Assembly which is the lower house, there are 47 women in reserved seats, with an additional 6 women nominated by political parties and 23 women elected in the open competition seats. This brings the total number of women in the National Assembly to 76, still short by 41 seats to make the two-thirds gender rule. Therefore, women now account for 23 percent of Kenya’s National Assembly and Senate.

After a protracted and polarizing election process marked by some incidences of violence, elections for six different levels (from national to county levels) were held in Kenya, on August 8, 2017. The incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was pronounced the winner of the presidential poll by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on August 11, 2017, with 54 percent of votes cast. Seats in the National Assembly were divided between 20 parties, with the government party being formed by the Jubilee Party with 171 seats in the National Assembly and the largest opposition grouping, the National Super Alliance, taking 110 seats. On September 1, Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the August 8 presidential elections and declared the results, invalid, null and void. The IEBC scheduled a fresh presidential election for October 26, 2017 and on October 31, President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-declared the winner having secured more than 98 percent of the vote, after his main opposition opponent, Raila Odinga and his supporters, boycotted the repeat election.

Although the Kenyan Presidential election was contentious, the general results of the elections demonstrated an overall improvement in women’s political participation in Kenya. A total of 76 women joined the National Assembly. Of these, 23 number were elected through open competitions, while 47 were elected to the women’s representative seats. There was also an additional six women nominated by political parties to represent special interest groups. Although there was a positive growth of women aspirants compared to 2013, the low percentage of women vying in the primaries (only 11% of all candidates) would never have translated into a result that met the constitutional provision in Article 81(b) which states that: "Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender."

Throughout the electoral period, NDI provided support to the Elections Observation Group (ELOG), a nonpartisan citizen election observer group, in its monitoring of election activities. ELOG was formally established in April 2010 and comprises 16 organizations, 10 of whom sit on the steering committee and an additional 6 are thematic members. Organizations include a wide range of actors, including groups representing women, youth and the disabled. ELOG was also the first domestic election observation initiative in Kenya to undertake a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), as part of its observation.



ELOG observed the election for 11 total reporting periods before the election. Each reporting period consists of two-week intervals, totaling five and a half months of pre-election reporting. During this period, ELOG’s observation focused on issues such as voter education, campaigning, and levels and incidences of violence. Due to the level of violence against women reported by ELOG in the first three months of its observation, NDI helped ELOG to incorporate questions related to monitoring violence into ELOG’s long-term observer (LTO) checklist and critical incident forms (see below).  ELOG subsequently found that women, both as candidates and as voters, were consistently a main target for threats and harassment. NDI worked with ELOG to gather supplemental information on perpetrators, victims, and the various manifestations of violence women were experiencing, and its impact on women’s political participation in and around elections in the last three reporting periods. ELOG's data was collected by one observer in each of the 290 constituencies in Kenya, who reported in every two weeks using the checklists described above.

Throughout the total pre-election reporting period, ELOG found that out of 3,157 responses, 972 (31 percent) answered that they had witnessed or heard of the use of threatening, abusive or insulting language against women as candidates or their families in their constituencies. Significantly fewer reports - only 597 of responses (19 percent) - of this type of violence were received when the same question was asked about the experience of women as voters or supporters.

In the last six weeks of reporting, there were 867 observation reports submitted. Out of the 867 reports, there were 25 responses (3 percent) of having witnessed or heard of physical violence against women candidates within their constituency and 13 responses (1.5 percent) for the same question against families or supporters of women candidates in their constituencies. There were also 30 responses (4 percent) during the last three reporting periods of having witnessed or heard of the destruction of a woman candidate’s private property or campaign materials in their constituency. ELOG was also able to capture that there were 250 responses (29 percent) of having witnessed or heard of incidents of women candidates and their supporters being coerced or forced to participate in political events. For example, threatening them, or by giving or promising them money, food and/or gifts. There was also 149 responses (17 percent) of having witnessed or heard of campaign activities or events where candidates, supporters or organizers had excluded women.

Following best practices, when observing violence NDI tries to provide victims with support. In addition to working on election observation work, starting in June 2017 and in advance of the August 8, elections, NDI and ELOG conducted a victim service mapping exercise to determine the number, scope and purpose of gender-based violence services in Kenya. Together NDI and ELOG identified key organizations working on responding to incidents of violence around the election. These included gender-based violence providers, those who provide legal support to victims, and organizations hosting hotlines aimed at being able to respond to instances of violence. However, in the process of this mapping, it became obvious that few of the hotlines were connected with observers and women candidates around the country. The Institute developed a hotline card to ensure that women, observers, and citizens could report problems to a range of response organizations, for example, for police and security sector assistance to contact UWIANO; for legal assistance, to contact Kimbilio Trust; and for health assistance to contact the Health Care Assistance Kenya (HAK) Hotline.  The cards were primarily distributed to election observers, including ELOG, throughout the 290 constituencies and could provide women engaged in the elections with relevant information on how to receive assistance if they needed it. These cards became a vital tool for the observers to be able to assist victims in need of help and guidance.

Observers were trained on the types of violence against women that they might observe during the election, through workshops for LTOs and PVT supervisors ahead of election day. A total of 29 lead trainers attended the PVT workshop, and subsequently included VAW-E information during their step-down events to 1,703 other PVT observers around the country. On August 5, NDI also facilitated a session on observing VAW-E for the members of its international observer delegation.  


ELOG’s Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) data found that 35 percent of presiding officers in polling stations were women.

On election day, a low amount of incidents of violence was reported to both ELOG and other observation missions. ELOG recorded 21 incidents of violence at polling stations. Of the incidents of violence one involved only women, and 13 involved women and men. The female-only incident of violence was perpetrated against a female security officer. The perpetrator was male and a voter, and the report of this instance was made after the observer saw it occur first hand.

In addition to ELOG’s monitoring, NDI also deployed an international observer mission to 13 counties throughout the country where they observed the opening, voting, closing and counting processes. They reported that overall they had witnessed a calm environment free of significant problems or security incidents. Throughout the day, teams observed long lines of voters in many polling locations. Women with small children and the elderly were given priority in the queues at most polling sites observed.


Since the 2013 elections, there has been little progress in improving women’s participation in Kenyan politics. This is due to several contextual factors. First, women in Kenya face high levels of violence in both the private and public spheres of their lives, which impacts their ability to engage in leadership and decision-making activities.  Second, traditional gender roles within the Kenyan society created barriers to women’s political participation. For example, in the Northeast regions of Kenya, the concept of ‘negotiated democracy’ has meant that elders have worked across clan lines to establish seats that are specifically for their group. This power-sharing structure has meant that elders not only determine which seats are available, but also those who can compete for the positions. The opaque selection process has traditionally disadvantaged women candidates, some of whom have either been excluded from competing for seats or required to contribute to the community in order to be considered (a form of economic violence) or forced to run as independents if they wish to contest for office.

Third, women face challenging barriers within political parties. Political parties remain the key gateway for women’s successful participation in politics. Party backing is the most important factor for female candidates, while the lack of support – or worse, a party’s active exclusion, discrimination, or hostility – can ruin a woman’s campaign. Many of the women who were elected reported having received support from their parties in the form of discounted nomination fees, funding for campaigns, equal treatment with men, and the application of constitutional provisions that promoted women’s inclusion, especially during the nomination process. On the other hand, many women who failed to get elected felt abandoned by their parties’ lack of adherence to the constitutional provision on inclusion, stating that the party laws and regulations were not supportive of women. In other cases, parties deliberately did not inform or misinformed women on the proper timelines and procedures to vie for office, preventing them from running. Women had to apply their own legal, political, and professional knowledge to manage the nomination procedures.

Fourth, the lack of access to campaign finances. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission attempted to implement new campaign finance regulations prior to 2017, but resistance in parliament meant that regulations did not take effect prior to the elections. The lack of any campaign finance regulation to limit spending, is a major constraint to women candidates, who generally have fewer resources and are less likely to benefit from the advantage of incumbency.  Most women candidates interviewed said that they would perform better if supported not only financially, but with campaign materials to increase their visibility and overall popularity. The lack of resources restricted their ability to travel and forced a dependence on the support of family and friends with the majority of their campaign funding being used to pay for party membership and nomination fees, agents’ emoluments, and logistical costs, rather than promotional materials and community engagement activities. Judicial processes for election disputes in Kenya, have to be paid for which added further financial hurdles to those that made the effort to challenge results in court.

Fifth, poor access to the media. In Kenya, the media has tremendous influence over political attitudes and electoral outcomes. Women candidates have reported that they received less media coverage than their male counterparts, and their lack of financial resources prevents women from breaking through into the media. When women do attract the attention of the media, they are generally portrayed in more negative ways compared to men. Gender stereotypes and stigma are also prevalent in the coverage of female political leaders. The application of double standards for men and women resulted in tremendous caution among many of the female candidates when given the opportunity to participate on television or radio, and as a result most women avoided media-based public discourse at a cost to their visibility.



In cooperation with the Institute, ELOG was able to train 1992 observers (1702 stationary observers and 290 long-term observers) on the causes and nature of VAW-E in Kenya. These observers recorded and reported valuable data on the scope of violence against women, and also broadened the understanding of what constitutes violence against candidates and voters. There were some observers who had previously considered harassment and verbal threats as acceptable, and through the program learned to identify and report this as a type of violence.

ELOG’s data, while limited by the short duration of the focus on VAW-E,  demonstrates that violence against women as candidates and voters did occur within the Kenyan elections. It is also important to say that no one else collected this type of violence against women in elections specific data. Interestingly, ELOG’s data demonstrated that reports of violence were made more frequently for women as candidates than as voters. This could potentially reflect that it is acceptable for women to participate in politics, but experience greater backlash when they attempt to take leadership positions – for example, as candidates. The fact that women were coerced into certain demonstrations of political participation more often than they were excluded, reinforces the notion that the political participation of women is generally accepted, but in some areas it is expected to align itself with the objectives of the predominant political groupings (political parties or traditional governance structures) or with the decisions of significant male figures in a woman's family and/or community.

ELOG’s reporting that violence against women candidates was reported more frequently in the primaries, confirms the general intensity and violence that characterised the intra-party competition for places on ballots.  Of the women that survived this intra-party violence to emerge as candidates, many went on to face further violence during the election campaign.



During the months following the election, NDI held four focus group sessions in three counties to follow-up on the experience of male and female candidates. NDI wanted qualitative analysis to complement the quantitative data ELOG had collected during the elections. These sessions were held in Kisumu and Nyeri - both with women respondents only; and in Nairobi, where sessions was held with women and men separately.

A total of 50 respondents (41 women and 9 men) from six political parties took part in the focus groups. Focus group participants included successful and unsuccessful candidates for a range of political positions, including Governor, Member of Parliament and Members of the County Assembly. The women in the focus groups reported having been subjected to various forms of violence including physical, psychological, threats and coercion and economic violence. The acts of violence targeted both the women candidates and their families, and they were perpetrated by opponents (both male and female) either directly or through the use of hired goons, as well as some members of the security forces. The attacks were undertaken to discourage, intimidate and ultimately prevent the women from participating in the elections. The male respondents also claimed to have faced violence from their opponents, but agreed that the women faced more violence than they did.  

Participants in the focus group confirmed that most of the violence against women as candidates occurred during the primaries. For example, participants shared how psychological and verbal abuse was very prevalent. In one case in Nyeri, the aspirant’s mother was abused and her customers scared away from her business premises in an attempt to get the aspirant to step down from the race and protect her family from the consequences of her candidature. Participants revealed that family members or opponents used matters close to the women’s hearts to discourage them from running – a form of emotional violence.  For example, one respondent was accused of murdering her husband and using his money to seek election.

Participants in the focus groups felt that a lot of work still needed to go into civic education with the aim of promoting a more enabling environment for women’s political leadership. Participants felt that the patriarchal nature of Kenyan society appeared to be more pronounced during elections, and specifically with regard to women’s leadership. They attributed this to the greater resistance by men to a perception of the ‘combative’  nature of some women candidates and women leaders.

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Electoral violence undermines democratic elections, which are a cornerstone of democratic governance. Violence against women in elections is a particular form of electoral violence, motivated by a desire to prevent women from participating in the electoral process, which sees women attacked for daring to participate in elections. Learn More About Votes Without Violence