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Women's gendered experiences of political instability: Kibera during the 2017 Kenyan elections.

Mueller-Hirth, Natascha; Vertigans, Stephen; Gibson, Neil



This study examines how residents of Kibera, an multi-ethnic informal settlement and opposition stronghold in Nairobi, Kenya, understood and negotiated political instability in the run up to, and during, the contested elections of 2017. Much of the scholarship on election violence has been gender-blind, ignoring the ways in which gender roles shape the experiences but also the nature of conflict. When women's experiences during conflict and war are considered, it is typically in relation to sexual violence. By contrast, our study examines women's gendered experiences of political instability across multiple dimensions, employing the structural framework of gender relations developed by Connell and Pearse (2014) that distinguishes power, production, emotional attachments, and symbolism. Data were produced from multi-method qualitative fieldwork undertaken shortly after the 2017 elections. We find that participants' experiences of deeply patriarchal structures, threats of sexual violence and the brutality of policing in Kibera coexisted with contestations of gendered power relations through mitigation strategies and some women's activism. Political instability moreover impacted women's labour and increased their already great obligations in terms of paid and unpaid work by generating additional responsibilities to cope with conflict and violence and to keep children safe. A dominant discourse of women as peacebuilders is shown to contribute to many women's senses of increased responsibility for peace itself during periods of political instability and serves to obscure their differences and that their gender roles might contribute to ethnic conflict. By examining how political instability in an informal settlement is experienced and negotiated across multiple dimensions of gender relations, this article contributes to the feminist literature on peace and conflict, and specifically to recent analyses of gender and electoral violence.


MUELLER-HIRTH, N., VERTIGANS, S. and GIBSON, N. 2023. Women's gendered experiences of political instability: Kibera during the 2017 Kenyan elections. Women's studies international forum [online], 96, article 102668. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 11, 2022
Online Publication Date Dec 23, 2022
Publication Date Feb 28, 2023
Deposit Date Jan 12, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 12, 2023
Journal Women's studies international forum
Print ISSN 0277-5395
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 96
Article Number 102668
Keywords Kenya; Violence; Electoral violence; Gender; Kibera; Conflict
Public URL


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