17 April 2019

Kenya: Who Cares About Kenyan Women?

Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation
(file photo).

Kenyan media has recently been awash with reports of gruesome killings of women. So far in 2019, dozens of women have reportedly been killed by their partners. Many others have been gravely injured. On International Women's Day, Kenyan women took to social media and the streets with the hashtag #TotalShutDownKe, demanding that authorities do more to protect them. But instead of being supported, they are being blamed for the crimes against them, and further bullied online.

One of the most prominent cases involves the murder of a 26-year-old university student, Sharon Otieno. Otieno, who was seven months pregnant, is said to have been abducted, raped, and then killed. The personal assistant of a senior politician she was in a relationship with has been arrested for questioning. But instead of mobilizing people to act against the rising scourge of violence against women, her death sparked victim-blaming and a debate narrowly focused on so-called transactional romantic relationships, instead of the terrible crime committed.

But violence continues. Last week, after another university student, Ivy Wangechi, was killed by a man she knew a few days before her 25th birthday, a popular local radio station ran a segment mocking her death. Three days after Ivy's murder, Peninah Wangechi, 30, was rushed to hospital after she was stabbed 17 times by her husband who had repeatedly threatened to kill her. The police are investigating both incidents, but there is little faith that the cases will lead to justice thanks to Kenya's dismal record of punishing these types of crimes.

Violence against women is endemic in Kenya. A recent national health survey found that almost half of Kenyan women aged between 15 - 49 say that they have been beaten, harassed, or raped, often by someone they know.

Kenyan women are overcoming social and other barriers to speak out against this violence.

Shortly before Women's Day, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that he values the contributions that women make to Kenyan society. But one month after the women's protest, why hasn't he sent a strong message to assure women that their lives matter? Kenya's women cannot wait a day longer for protection - and justice.


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