I have been deeply contemplating whether I will vote in this year’s election. And it is not because I am undecided about the candidates I’m voting for. No. Actually, this time more than ever I am passionate about the leaders I want to vote for. I honestly really want to vote. There is only one problem – I have an infant. Now before you start shouting about how that is not a hindrance let me explain. Before I got a baby whenever I wanted to leave the house I showered, dressed and simply stepped out. My son has come into my world and literally turned it upside down. While babies are adorable and bundles of joy (most times), mothers will agree with me that leaving the house with them can be quite a hassle. I have left the house thrice so far since my baby was born and these three times I came back to the house as quickly as I could. Because they were all hospital visits my husband came with me which made the travel much easier. When I think of leaving the house in this cold weather with a young baby to go to a crowded polling station to vote to be honest it just makes me want to stay home. And I am not alone. Many women are facing this and many more challenges when it comes to elections and voting. Let’s look at some challenges faced by women voters in Kenya.
Let’s start with pregnant women.
Queuing – as much as people allow pregnant women to go straight to the front and not queue imagine a woman who is pregnant but is not yet showing. First trimester is a time characterized by nausea, bloating and extreme exhaustion. Now imagine feeling like that and being stuck in a queue surrounded by all manner of smells – perfumes, body odor and foods. And because you still don’t look pregnant no one will allow you to go to the front of the queue. Instead of explaining your situation and mostly sounding like a fraud you choose to endure it. For some it is so bad they’d rather stay home. Now imagine if that woman is a candidate and she needs to campaign for months and stay at the polling station all day on Election Day. Before she event gets there, most women candidates cannot even think of running if they’re pregnant or are even considering getting a baby soon. The campaign atmosphere in Kenya is so hostile to women leave alone a pregnant woman.
Clean washrooms – this does not sound like a big deal until you are pregnant and have to go to the washroom every 30 minutes. Given most polling stations are public schools the state of washrooms is not encouraging. Think of a crowded school with like 5 toilets. Now imagine having to go queue to use those washrooms at least once an hour. Are you seeing how hard this is?
Safety concerns – this is a huge one. I remember when I was pregnant I avoided any campaign areas like the plague. If I knew some candidate would be in a certain area I would avoid that area all day. Even near home if I heard motorbikes, speakers and spotted a crowd on my way to the supermarket I would turn back immediately. Why? Because campaigns and elections in Kenya means loud unruly youth just hanging around and most time will fight over the slightest aggravation. And because a pregnant woman cannot run in the chaos, she chooses to stay home.
Now onto women with young babies:
To leave the baby home or to go with them? This is a big dilemma for most mums and ranks as my number one struggle for this election. I have given my house manager the day off because she also needs to go exercise her right to vote. Which means that wherever I am is where the baby will be. When I think of going with him I think of all the logistics involved. Now imagine women with several kids! Maybe you have a toddler and an infant. Or multiples who are really young! The logistics are a nightmare.
Vaccination and crowded places: Any mother of an infant worries about introducing germs into their baby’s life especially if they have not had all their jabs. That’s why visitors are restricted for newborns. People with a cold or who are generally unwell are not supposed to come see the baby. Now think of a polling station; full of people meaning full of germs especially in this cold weather when almost everyone has the flu.
Safety concerns: just like pregnant women, mums with young babies fear any situation where they have to run or hide. The mere thought of even the smallest disturbance can cause worry.
I’ve highlighted these issues so that this election period should you see a pregnant woman or a mother with a young child please extend some kindness. Don’t fuss if they’re allowed to go to the front of the queue. Let them use the washroom first. Offer to watch their kids so they can vote. A little help will reduce these inconveniences and allow them to exercise their democratic right to vote.