A Story that Doesn’t Sell

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2010 at 12:50 am

Violence Against Women in Kenya

Taylor Poor, Staff Writer

The night after Kenya’s hotly contested presidential elections of December 30, 2007, confirmed President Mwai Kibaki for his second term and threw the country into vicious ethnic turmoil, Sarah Maluu was raped by three security officers in full uniform.[1] In the violent aftermath of the elections that lasted into the spring of 2008, Florence Mukambi lost her two children and part of her face to arson,[2] Jacqueline Imakokha and her mother were gang raped by 20 rioters, and thousands of other Kenyan women suffered sadistic brutality at the hands of angry protesters.[3]

A report by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) from February 2008 announced the continued use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of ethnic tension in the aftermath of Kenya’s December 2007 elections.[4]

This post-election devastation is perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the battered women of Nairobi—it carries stories of rape and gender-based violence to the rest of the world. The type of gender-based violence (or GBV) seen in post-election Nairobi is not a new problem for female Kenyans. It is a symptom of a much larger concern, to which nobody has been paying any attention.

Susan Wabala, of Kenya’s Peace Pen Communications, recently presented a story about the sexual assault of a ten-year-old girl to her editors only to be told it was “one of those stories that don’t sell.”[5] These heartbreaking tales of pre-election violence abound: there is the story of the five-year-old girl left at home with her twin 14-year-old brothers, who dragged her outside to rape her repeatedly[6]; and Margaret, gang-raped by 10 men throughout the course of a single night and rudely treated by the doctor who examined her after her ordeal.[7] “Kenya has an epidemic of gender-based violence,” wrote Makau Metua, Chair of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, in August 2009,[8] rampant long before the 2007 elections brought it to international attention.

If GBV is in fact a long-standing source of distress to Kenyan women, where in Kenyan society is the basis for this crisis, and why are the perpetrators escaping justice? Experts point out that age-old customs may translate in today’s society to the fact that women have few rights protecting them from violent acts.

Ann Njogu, Executive Director of the Nairobi’s Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), links violence against Kenyan women to traditional customs that “contribute to the entrenchment of gender based violence.”[9] She explains that in Kenya, women have almost no control over their sexuality, if any at all, while violence erupts from countless sources in everyday life: “intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, rape, widow inheritance, dowry related violence, and female genital mutilation.”[10] 50% of Kenyan women have undergone female genital mutilation; in some areas the figure is as high as 95%.[11]

Njogu cites ancient, ingrained practices such as the payment of bride price at marriages, wife inheritance by other members of the family after her husband has died, “cleansing” a widow through often-forced intercourse, and the traditional avoidance of sexuality in discussion in Kenyan society as customs that could be seen to help perpetuate the concept that women are property, rendering gender-based violence less reprehensible in the eyes of authorities. Further, Metua cites the “irrevocable consent [for sexual intercourse]…given by marriage,”[12] explaining, men and boys “are socialized by patriarchy…to abuse women, and to treat them as chattel.”[13]

Njogu and Dr. Seggane Musisi, head of psychiatric consultation at Mulago Hospital, Uganda, both understand a fundamental lack of public awareness and political appreciation to be at the root of the pervasiveness of the current GBV crisis (which Musisi has connected to many countries in Africa that have experienced “low intensity,” “chronic” warfare).[14] Not only do governments internationally fail to comprehend the scope of the global causes and consequences of Africa’s “chronic war-fare,”[15] but community professionals seem unwilling to contribute their authority toward solving violence problems.

Due to public pressure to keep quiet, cases of abuse often go unreported. Njogu submits, “frequent mismanagement of court cases” and the humiliation of hospital procedures “penalize survivors.”[16] The doctor treating Margaret after her rape, for example, exhibited such distaste toward examining her that she felt as though she were being violated yet again.[17] Patricia Nyaundi, executive director of Kenya Federation of Women Lawyers, laments how the justice system reacts to women seeking retribution for abuse, with police officers asking women “why they were out that late.” “In courts, it’s the same story,” Nyaundi says.[18]

The flawed Kenyan justice system has also taken its toll on the post-election investigations ordered by Kenya’s brand-new first lady, Lucy Kibaki, in outrage at the post-election violence: a year’s worth of thousands of rape investigations brought all of four cases to court.[19] Nyaundi, who directed the investigations, told the HCGHR that “Police were not cooperative. They refused to share infor-mation…Eventually we felt that we were just [there] to rubberstamp the process and we therefore pulled out.”[20]

Teresa Omondi, of the Gender Violence Recovery Center at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, blames women’s unwillingness to pursue justice in cases of abuse on the fact that “in most cases it’s father, uncle, cousin, neighbour, shop keeper—you name it.”[21]

Surely a community-centered approach is necessary for long-term advances in Kenyan women’s rights. Njogu and others are taking steps against GBV at the community level by raising awareness and access to education. Njogu is currently working to spread CREAW’s “Rape Red Spot” campaign in Kenya, which identifies dangerous areas so that women like Margaret can avoid them in the future.[22] Her organization enlists the cooperation of men and boys in the communities it has accessed.

Perhaps once GBV-plagued societies start to think differently about a crisis they have taken for granted for so long, stories like Margaret’s will win their place in the international spotlight, and their heroines the relief they so desperately need.


1 Alsop, Zoe. “Kenya’s Rape Probe Falters After Lawyers Drop Out.” Women’s eNews 14 Dec. 2008. <http://www.pubmedcentral. nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2141620>. (Accessed 8 Oct. 2009)

2 Kyalimpa, Joshua. “Kenya: Elusive Justice for Victims of Gender-Based Violence.” AllAfrica Global Media 14 Aug. 2009. <http:// allafrica.com/stories/200908140643.html>. (Accessed 8 Oct. 2009)

3 Alsop, 2008.
4 Some, Jane. “GBV in post-election Kenya.” IRIN News. <http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR30/56.pdf&gt;. (Accessed 8 Oct. 2009)

5 Mwita, George. “AFRICA: Raising the Profile of Gender-Based Violence.” IPS 8 Aug. 2009. <http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48010&gt;. (Accessed 8 Oct. 2009) 6 Kyalimpa, 2009.
7 Thomas, Rachel. “Spotlight on Ann Njogu, CREAW: Taking a Stand Against Gender-Based Violence in Kenya.” OSI 26 July, 2006. <http://www.soros.org/initiatives/health/focus/sharp/articles_publications/articles/njogu_2006072&gt;. (Accessed 8 Oct. 2009)
8 Mutua, Makau. “Kenya: The Epidemic of Gender0Based Violence.” AllAfrica Global Media 29 August 2009. <http://allafrica.com/stories/200908310800.html&gt;. (Accessed 8 Oct. 2009)

9 Thomas, 2006.

10 Thomas, 2006.

11 Mbugua, Isabel. “Ending the Mutilation.” WomenAid International 1997. <http://www.womenaid.org/press/info/fgm/fgmkenya.htm&gt;. (Accessed 8 Oct. 2009)
12 Mutua, 2009.
13 Mutua, 2009.
14 Musisi, Seggane. “Mass trauma and mental health in Africa.” African Health SciencesAugust 2004. <http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2141620&gt;. (Accessed 8 Oct. 2009)
15 Musisi, 2004.
16 Thomas, 2006.
17 Thomas, 2006.
18 Kyalimpa, 2009.

19 Alsop, 2008.

20 Nyaundi, Patricia. Personal interview by email. 7 October 2009.

21 Kyalimpa, 2009.
22 Thomas, 2006.


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