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In most African countries, it is very common ahead of elections to see groups and political parties providing support for women in politics but getting support after the election is few and far between. However, post-election is when women need support the most, with many battling mental health, depression, and bankruptcy, also with another election on the horizon. Lina Mwamachi and Juliana Francis examine the situations in Nigeria and Kenya.

Getting Mrs. Jennifer Bina Efidi to speak with reporters was like trying to sell ice to Eskimos. She put the reporters through a third degree.

She was full of suspicion, and who can blame her, after going through hell and back, just because she wanted to exercise her fundamental rights during the February 25th presidential and National Assembly elections in the Surulere area of Lagos of Nigeria.

On that fateful day, she was attacked at the polling unit and almost lost an eye. She would return to cast her vote after her injury had been stitched. The move that earned her the name, “Democracy Hero.”

Efidi’s sitting room is adorned with a painting of her casting vote and her bloodied face, sutured.

The wound has healed but the scar will always serve as a reminder to her and other women of the horrendous situations African women continue to battle to participate in politics.

Efidi, who is a first-time voter, said that the attack left her, her husband and her children traumatized. For days, she was plagued by nightmares, suffered anxieties and became afraid of every shadow and her blood pressure spiked.

She said: “The trauma I suffered after the election is what I do not wish on anybody. Especially the first and preceding weeks. I hardly sleep. Nightmares after nightmares and then headaches. It was traumatizing for my family and me.

Recalling the terrifying day as if it were yesterday, Efidi said: “I was just going through my phone when someone beside me made me look up. I saw a group of strange-looking, fierce guys. They were about 20 in number. We were just watching and after some time, they started leaving. After about 20 minutes or more, I felt an impact on my face, gbam! I also heard gunshots. I thought I had been hit by a bullet. People were running helter-skelter. I put my hand on my face and it was bloodied; the blood was dripping to my elbow.”

Efidi feared for her life as blood continued to gush and started crying for help, screaming that she was dying. Even in her pain and fear, she noticed other electorates looked scared and nearby residents locked their doors.

Amid the chaos and panic, a woman stepped forward and tried to stem the blood on Efidi’s face but failed.

“She said we should look for safety, and we started trying to push doors open because we didn’t know where the shooters or attackers were,” narrated Efidi.

Efidi’s wound was finally stitched and just as her husband was driving her home, she noticed voting had resumed at her unit.

She recalled: “As we were driving past, I felt a rage inside of me, after everything I had done, ensuring I registered for my PVC and all, so I wouldn’t vote. But my husband encouraged me, I got down and went to cast my vote.”

Ms Cate Mashame, a young female and a first-time aspirant in the 2022 general elections in Kenya, recalled how she threw herself into the elections and contested for the County Women’s Representative seat, she did her best in her capacity as a first-time young female aspirant and until the end of her campaigns, she stood firm, even to the ballot box. But Politics is a win-lose game; she did not clinch the seat.

When Mashame was asked if she got any kind of help from the famous political party she was vying under, The Orange Democratic Party, she said she got nothing at all.

PRINCESS ISLAMIYAT OYEFUSI
PRINCESS ISLAMIYAT OYEFUSI

She said: “ I got nothing at all, no psychological help nor financial help, I am on my own, but the network I created during campaigns and my engagements during the political period, helped me a lot, because some of the connections I made and networks I built, altogether, the social capital I generated, have held my hand ever since, but nothing has come from the political party I was vying under and advocating for its ideologies.”

She noted that it was good for any young female candidate to establish reasons for going into politics.

According to her, any female candidate, despite age and class should prepare well in terms of finances and investing in social capital, to avert disappointment, specifying that political parties cannot be depended upon.

It is very common in Africa, ahead of elections, to see groups and political parties providing support for women in politics, but getting support for those women after elections is few and far between.

Many of these women had been dragged on social media, got polarized with friends and families over political parties’ affiliations, suffered abuse and attacks and for those that vied, some had become bankrupt.

These are situations that are capable of causing mental health breakdown and clinical depression. Post-election is when women need support from different groups, especially political parties, family members, women-focused groups, religious bodies and international communities. The support is also to prepare and equip them for the next elections.

In November 2022, Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), called for support to enhance women’s participation in the forthcoming election. INEC made the call during a sensitization visit with a theme, “Women and their participation under the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) campaign tagged #Balance4her Campaign in the 2023 General Elections.”

During that sensitization, the women were told the importance of voting for women and warned against vote selling.

PremiumTimes also reported how Nigerian women mobilized those at the grassroots for the 2023 general elections, educating them about the Gender Equality Bill.

A lot of preparations go into readying women in politics for elections, especially by political parties, and local and international groups, but post-election support is not as common or frequently offered as it ought to be.

According to Betterhelp.com, people suffer from post-election stress disorder. This can include among other things, “a higher incidence of physical and mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, headaches, and overwhelm.” This stress can be “coped with using unique coping mechanisms and support systems.”

A non-governmental organization, the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), is grooming women in politics after elections to be resilient, while others are demanding more inclusivity and appointment of women to nonelective positions.

Efidi’s case is unique because not everyone gets attacked at the polling unit, but many are simply stressed out of their minds. Efidi thinks that the nature of her attack got her overwhelming support.

She said: “I got calls and I was called a hero. Nigerians were amazing. Representatives of different political parties came to see me. But really, nothing from the government. But nobody has been arrested for attacking me and I know the person is still out there. Right now, I want the safety of my family and my peace of mind.”

According to her, after the elections, a group, UN Women invited her to a programme on postelection.

She stated: “I benefited from it because I spoke about the incident. Truly, post-election support is very important, it will be more so if it’s coming from a place of authority, which is the government. For instance, after what happened to me, the government has not said anything and no measure has been put in place to prevent such a trauma from recurring.”

She argues that such nonchalance from the government could lead to women not participating in politics in Nigeria. “When they remember what happened to a fellow woman, sister, or colleague at the polling unit, they will not want to participate. This will continue to drop the number of women in politics. The government should support women by ensuring a reduction in such traumatic experiences. The government should be interested in what happens to women after elections, especially those who are victims of violence.

“The government should ask what has become of them, what is the person facing medically? What is their mental health like and follow up with psychological and other supports. My case is my eye, what about families of those who lost people and women who lost property? Where is the safety net for women? My attack happened in this neighbourhood and I am still in this neighbourhood, do you know what does to someone’s mind?”

Ms Gertrude Shuwe, also a first-time aspirant in Kenya, said: “I did not get anything from my party, not even a handkerchief, yet I vied and campaigned on the party’s ticket.”

BARRISTER EFE ANAUGHE
BARRISTER EFE ANAUGHE

According to her, she lost the election but did not receive any form of support from her political party.

She said optimistically that it was a good start, at least through the race, she has been able to learn a bunch of lessons and challenges, which she believed will help her leadership skills as well as political tactics in other forthcoming elections.

She is also of the opinion that she failed to win the election because she started her campaign late. She said: “I started my campaign six months before the election.”

She mentioned logistics, lack of funds and a vast area to cover in the county as other factors that led to her losing the election.

According to her, she wanted to stretch a hand, touch lives and lead the right way, minding the fundamental rights of women, girls and less privileged in society, but luck did not knock on her door this time.

Princess Islamiyat Oyefusi is the Labour Party’s Deputy Governorship candidate for Lagos State. The lawyer said that the most trying period for her was during the campaign and elections.

She recalled how she was dragged on social media and her image photoshopped to depict her smoking Indian hemp, “But I have never smoked in my life,” she told this reporter.

She said that she also sunk close to a hundred million into the election and lost. Both cases were not easy to get over, said Oyefusi.

Oyefusi, who is a gender advocate, was also the Lagos-East Senatorial candidate for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos in the 2019 election.

According to her, post-election support should be women’s groups, political parties and the government supporting women and encouraging women to come into politics.

She said: “The electoral process in Nigeria is very violent and monetarised. If you don’t have the resources to compete in an election, you cannot succeed.”

Oyefusi said that it was a constant struggle for women to find their places politically. “ During the preparation for the election, there is also a need for pre-election support, because you have to pay for campaign money, go out to campaign and you’re competing in the same male-dominated environment. You must go to the same boys’ club to beg for money for election coupled with the violent nature of politics in Nigeria, especially in Lagos State, where you have the political thugs.”

She said that only a determined woman can continue in politics in Nigeria. “We have nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) support during pre-election, but they do not have money to support women in politics. Nobody’s giving these women money. They must source money themselves to be able to get anywhere. If there are NGOs that have been empowered by the government or by international organisations to fund these women politicians, it increases our chances of winning.”

She said that during pre-election, the woman politician is basically on her own, and she has to pay for a nomination form, which is very exorbitant.

Speaking about the 2023 elections, Oyefusi said: “There is harassment and you suffer mental health because of abuse. It can make you sink into depression because you’re constantly fighting the system. You can sort of sink into depression because you’re constantly fighting the system. You’re constantly fighting male-dominated harassment. For example, when I was campaigning on social media, somebody just came up with a picture of somebody smoking Indian and projected the image as me. I had to publicly go on social media, and radio that it was not me. I have never smoked in my life.”

JENNIFER BINA EFIDI
JENNIFER BINA EFIDI

She also mentioned that women have to contend with being attacked when they go out for a campaign and this, “depresses you even more. If you’re not mentally strong, you can break down and you must fret about money. How are you going to raise money for the campaign, print posters, tee-shirts etc.. You’re doing everything alone; it takes a toll on your physical well-being without a support network.”

She said with a sad mien: “In this 2023 election, if I tell you the millions of money, I spent in campaigning even though I was only a deputy governorship candidate, well over a hundred million was thrown into the campaign. A political campaign is not cheap! We have to go to local governments and for each local government, you’re spending an average of about N10 million, or N5 million, depending. You still have internal party stuff to deal with. Before you go to your primary and win, it’s all about money and negotiations. Elections take a lot of emotion out of you.

“If you’re not strong mentally, it can drive you down. When you vied for election and lost, where do you go to? Where do you start from? There is no group where you can go to talk about what you experienced, how you dealt with it, what is the next step, how we can support each other and what we need to come together to form.”

She opined that there was a need for groups that would be an outlet for women to share their experiences, and discuss how to move forward.

MUJIDAT AGBABIAKA
MUJIDAT AGBABIAKA

She said that it was tragic that some women politicians, who vied for politician positions and lost, became so bankrupt that they had to resort to selling petty trading.

“There is a need for women groups and women to begin to say, all right, I am the only senator of this area and I am the only woman here, how can I pull up my fellow women,” said Oyefusi. “There is a need to start asking, how do I support you? How can you recoup what you’ve spent and lost? I know a lot of women who contested for Assembly and lost, and their money was gone! How do they pick themselves up and where do they start from? Most cannot keep at politics because of the magnitude of what they have lost.”

However, Barrister Efe Anaughe of Warien Rose Foundation, with cluster group, Women Active in Politics, said, “We do not do political parties, what we do is to empower and support women in politics, leadership, either by appointment or election.

“For the post-election support, we have developed different training models to help women. We encourage them to take advantage of this. Our group want to make sure a woman wins. Four years is not a long time; in fact, it’s less than four years to the next election. We are encouraging women to empower themselves and equip themselves so that when they speak, they speak with confidence and knowledge about what next to do. If you do not know the various laws, you can’t speak about it.”

She stated that it is the responsibility of CSOs, and family members to support them.

She explained that the support to these women might not just be financial, but psychological due to the effect of the loss of the election and money on them, to avoid feeling like failures.

Additionally, she cited that family members and society could help these women politicians realize that losing does not mean the end of the world.

She stressed that another important therapy for these women was to continue to engage them even after they had lost the election.

She said: “We know most elections in Nigeria last four years each, so before the next election how do we prepare them? As CSOs, we can look at the faults that made them fail, was it their physical presence, or communication and visibility, was it how much or how little they were able to spend? What went wrong that made them as women to lose the election? Is it because of their integrity or capability to deliver? what went wrong that made them fail?

According to Richard Babu, a CSO with URAIA Trust Organization in Taita Taveta county Kenya, most young female aspirants in Kenya have found themselves between a wall and a hard rock facing a hard life, after losing in last year’s general elections, and have not got any proper help financially and phycological from political parties they vied under, yet they deserve that for standing with the political parties and ideologies.

Babu adds that it would be good for the political parties to have a kitty, that will mobilize resources to fund young female aspirants and women at large since most possess leadership qualities, but miss opportunities because of finances.

Notably, Babu said corruption surrounding politics and more so during campaigns and elections, has forced most young women aspirants to miss the opportunities, because male counterparts propagate handouts vice.

The Communications Manager, of Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Mujidat Agbabiaka, said that post-election support can be looked at holistically, beginning with the electorates, who she described as “critical stakeholders in election matters and governance.”

She said: “One of those supports to the electorate is to guide them and re-orientate women electorate about her role in governance. This is by way of sensitization, and enlightenment on how to get their PVC and prepare them for the next electioneering phase of the country.

Another post-election support, said Agbabiaka, is to help put resources together ahead of the next electioneering process.

“If the support group are in place, they identify that this woman has what it takes to lead when she contests and if she wins, she can change things for good in the country. Mobilization is one such support that groups or CSOs can do. They should begin to put resources together ahead of the electioneering. Even if it is a woman who is just starting today, there should be financial support that will always be readily available for them to be able to compete with their male counterparts when the time comes.”

Some countries have already piloted blueprints and executed ways to continue to give young women in politics and other sectors support. Thus countries, especially Africans, should become intentional with the passage of bills.

In Rwanda, women were allowed and supported to occupy at least 60 per cent of the parliamentary seats.

In New Zealand, support for women was seen when the Equal Pay Amend Bill was passed, ensuring women receive equal salaries as their male counterparts operating similar duty posts and positions.

In Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president, after clinching the coveted political position, mapped out a plan to help other African women reach the top. She launched the Center for Women and Development, which Johnson Sirleaf established after leaving office in 2018.

The centre provided mentorship and intentionally worked towards catapulting women into leadership positions.

Lawmakers in India decided to launch more women into corridors of power by reserving 33 per cent of seats for them at the lower house and state assemblies.

The Context News, says of Sierra Leone, “A new gender empowerment law in Sierra Leone, where women hold 13% of seats, will ensure they make up at least 30% of the parliament and cabinet after elections in June.”

Macharia Munene, a Lecturer, and professor of history, Politics and International Relations in Kenya, urged young female aspirants to go to the political arena full plan on how to go about politics and deal with aftermath boldly, strongly and intelligently, without expectations of any kind of help form parties and government.

Munene, further advises women eying political leadership, that aggressiveness, smartness and education in matters of politics, is paramount, because most politicians and political parties are liars, rouge and hypocrites, once their ambitions are met, they forget those who stood for their ideologies.

However, the professor also challenges female aspirants who lost, to seek guidance and tips from those who won, to prepare them for the next political horizons

The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr Auwal Ibrahim Musa, stating solutions that would further assist women in elections, said that young women in Politics should try as much as possible to join a viable political party, “ when they join a viable political party, they should ensure they are involved in the political party leadership positions.”

Musa further said: “Women, especially those that have clinched political positions, need to identify with women organization groups. These women will give them support and help them perform their duties very well so that people will begin to agitate for more women to be given political positions.

“Furthermore, women who find themselves in the legislative chamber should be outspoken. They should not only speak on gender issues but on national issues, and legislative engagements. They should speak on issues relating to the economy, security, and development. They should participate in debates and introduce bills. They should strive for media visibility and become known, they should not be bench-warmers.”

He also emphasized that women should learn to cooperate and participate in activities organized by civil society organisations.

The Group Political Editor of The New Telegraph Newspaper in Nigeria, Mr Felix Nwaneri, said: “Women should be given support after elections by deliberately giving them appointments. These appointments should be across different political platforms. This is how to empower women. Give them appointments into the federal and state cabinets to make up for the shortfall in the number of women who were elected to national and state assemblies.

More women should also be allowed to serve in the National Working Committees of the various political parties. A look at the composition of the executives of most of the parties shows that besides the position of Women Leader, women are hardly accommodated in the running of affairs of the parties. Most importantly, those who perpetrate violence against women during elections and their sponsors should be made to face the full wrath of the law as violence remains a major factor that discourages women from participating in politics.”

If women in politics, either aspirants, candidates or electorates are sure of pre-election and post-election support, many will not be too quick to back out of politics.

Post-election support for women helps their mental health, gives closure, and makes them prepare for the next election. This support helps most of them to understand and analyse their feelings, gaps, and mistakes and better equip them to succeed and witness the fertilization of cross ideas from successful candidates to aspiring women politicians both in Kenya and Nigeria.

This collaborative story about post-election support for young women in politics was documented by Juliana Francis from Nigeria and Lina Mwamachi from Kenya, with support from African Women in Media (AWiM)

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