Politician Was Told Her Hair Was Unprofessional And To Fear Rape On Campaign Trail

She was told that being "young and beautiful" is a recipe for rape.

Credit: Samanthah Maina

When Samanthah Maina headed out onto the campaign trail with her majority-female team these past few months to gather signatures, she believed that she was ready. She had her platform down, was ready for questions about her political qualifications, and even prepared to battle accusations that she was an independent and not a member of a political party. As a woman, it’s already very hard to convince the male-dominated country’s inhabitants that she is fit to be a member of the assembly, but she discounted just how difficult it would be.

Maina is running for a seat in the Members of County Assembly for the Kileleshwa Ward in Kenya; assembly members bridge the gap between citizens and county lawmakers, so working with citizens is essential to the seat she’s aiming for. That’s why political aspirants need to gather 500 signatures to even vie for a seat in the assembly, causing Maina to head out on the road to speak with community members about the issues their facing, give information about her platform, and hopefully gain more signatures and supporters. What Maina wasn’t ready for was the explicit and implicit sexist comments and actions that she would be forced to endure when speaking with many citizens.

The 26-year-old faced comments and questions about her hair, which some people said was unprofessional and unlike the hair of a politician, her marital status, whether she was running for office to sell cosmetics, and why she didn’t have a bodyguard to protect her and her team from rape while out on the streets.

“In my head I’m thinking, ‘Why would I choose politics to sell my looks?’” she told BuzzFeed News. “I’ll go for Miss Kenya, right? Not politics.”

In a Twitter thread, the political aspirant voiced her concerns for what she faced.

Her words have resonated with countless women not only in Kenya but across the globe, as sexism, rape culture, and gender parity have made their way onto the radar of politics. Kenya’s current parliament is made up of roughly 20% of women, and to combat this they passed an article in their constitution in 2010 that would require women to make up one-third of parliament, but enforcement of the article has been lacking. The article was in response to outrage from citizens and the efforts made by neighboring countries; Rwanda, for example, has a parliament where women make up 64% of the members.

In Kenya, sexism, lack of funding, sexual assault, and fear of violence are all holding back the push to put more women in office. Their hesitation to enforce the mandate nearly caused a government shutdown just a few months ago, but authorities are worried that even more riots and uprisings will occur if the article takes effect.

Credit: Samanthah Maina

Maina is not the first nor will she be the last woman to face discrimination and overtly sexist questions while running for office. One environmental champion and Nobel Peace Prize winner was stripped of her chance at the presidency with a crude rumor, another had condoms thrown around her campaign site after it was raided to ruin her reputation, and the male opponent of a female gubernatorial candidate said that she was “so beautiful, everybody wants to rape her.” Despite this comment being well-known and the talk show he was so supposed to appear on being canceled, his race for the governorship continues.

What Maina faces is so common that it’s frightening, and that’s why she and her team are in fear whenever they go out. But she urges other females to also run for office because of the importance of representation in the government.

“It will test you on every front: emotionally, psychologically,” Maina said about running for office. “You might lose weight, or gain weight from the stress. We talk about representation, but we can’t shy away because it’s going to be a bit tough. There’s not going to be a perfect time.”

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