Capital FM (Nairobi)

23 November 2012

Kenya: Women in Plea to 'Use My Ballot Not My Body'

The three women sit around a table tackling their breakfast at a five-star city hotel. One in a black T-Shirt, a red skirt, white rubber shoes and with her hair held up in a bun by a red cloth.

The second sits in a black skirt and red T-Shirt and the third in a grey skirt suit and a red T-Shirt. Their T-Shirts read the same, 'use my ballot not my body' but that is not the only thing they have in common. All three are rape victims or as they prefer to be called, rape survivors; two of them having been raped in the violence the followed the last general elections.

Another general election looms just three months away and that is why the women are here today; to share their stories. Stories they hope will get the government to act and keep the horrors they lived through from happening to someone else.

What shall we call them? They've asked that their identities be kept hidden. "Kibera is a bad place," Monica, not her real name, explains. As I watch her wield her fork and knife I wonder how many times she's had to tell her story. "I cast my vote and everything was fine until December 27, 2007 and it became clear Kibaki would return to State House." "I even wonder why I should cast my vote this time round."

Monica pauses to cut up her pancake, pierce a chunk of steak and put them into her mouth.

I wait for her to finish. "It was bad. You have no idea how bad it was. If you did you'd cry." "I left my house the evening of December 28 to look for food. When I was at the door, my food in hand, three men pulled me down. I remember banging my head on the door frame."

She begins to lose the grip she has displayed until now and her hands shaking, she puts down her fork and knife and takes a hesitant breath. "They asked me, 'what else did expect us to do except to take advantage of the opportunity presented to us?'" "I pulled myself back inside. I didn't leave the house for nine days," pointing to her pelvis she explains, "my bladder was so swollen. All I could do was drink water."

Monica who lost her husband in 2006 had no one. Her parents, daughter and sister had to come all the way from Machakos county to take her to hospital." "All my mother could do when she saw me was cry."

Life has never been the same for the mother of two. "My son who was in form three at the time never went back to school. I was in hospital for close to a month and so my small hotel like everything else around me burnt to the ground."

Farida unlike the outspoken Monica looks shyly at us over the rim of her cup. "Talking about it frees me," she says hesitantly.

She gets as far as saying she too lived and still lives in Kibera and that she too was raped during the post election violence then she clams up. "I don't think I want to go on," she says pleading with her eyes for me to understand.

When she got up in front of the room she had shared she was violated by four men.

"What is the government going to do to make sure it never happens again?" she had asked.

Saida Ali is the Executive Director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW). COVAW is behind the 'use my ballot not my body' campaign.

The campaign is intended to run alongside the general election campaigns which according Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) calendar end on February 23.

In that time they hope to collect one million signatures...signatures they hope will prompt the government to take action against gender based violence and in response to it before the general elections.

"Should the next general elections erupt into violence there should be a safe corridor rape victims can use to access PEP."

PEP as it is most commonly referred to stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis; an antiretroviral treatment that should ideally be given to rape victims within 72 hours to reduce their risk of contracting HIV.

"I received counselling together with other rape victims at the Kenyatta National Hospital following the post election violence and a good number of them contracted HIV and their husbands left them," Monica chimes in.

"A lot of these women got pregnant," Saida continues.

Lisa, the third rape victim at the table hasn't said much. Now she quips, "shouldn't the government compensate those women? IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) were compensated why shouldn't they?"

And it is this reasoning that has Monica and Farida taking the government to court.

"I'll show my face then," Farida seeks to assure me.

Lisa was raped in 2009. She got pregnant and now she has a three year old boy.

"When he asks me who his father is, it's psychological torture," she says her eyes welling up.

"We want the government to stop treating rape like a lesser crime," Saida says impassioned.

"I made my hospital file available to the CID (Criminal Investigative Department) in 2008 and to date my rapists roam free," Monica testifies.

"The CID should be separated from the police department and fall under the DPP's (Director of Public Prosecutions) office," Saida reasons, "every time we try to follow up these cases they say investigations were inconclusive."

"I applaud the appointment of a prosecutor to handle sexual and gender based violence but we need one in every county."

Even that Saida says would not begin to scratch the surface.

"There are 11 gender based violence recovery centres in the country but other than Kenyatta referral hospital and Mbagathi District Hospital the rest are in appalling condition. Kenyatta and Mbagathi are only exempt because of NGOs."

"Why can't P3 forms be filled when medical attention is sought and why can't post rape kits to preserve evidence of rape be available in public hospitals?"

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