WOMEN STILL NOT SAFE IN PUB­LIC SPA­CES

Two years af­ter the back­lash to the strip­ping spree, women still feel in­se­cure and want in­creased in­ter­ven­tion to safe­guard their rights

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read - MIRIAM LESENI @thes­tarkenya

Novem­ber 2014 will re­main etched in the minds of thou­sands of women and for the most grue­some of rea­sons.

It is the month where the pub­lic strip­ping of a woman at a bus stop in Nairobi sparked a rip­ple ef­fect of sim­i­lar waves of as­sault to­wards women in pub­lic ser­vice ve­hi­cles and bus stops across Nairobi.

The on­slaught to­wards the un­sus­pect­ing women was pro­voked by what gangs of youths termed as in­de­cent at­tire.

Just hours af­ter the first in­ci­dent be­gan trend­ing on so­cial me­dia af­ter an eye wit­ness had posted the video on­line, the pub­lic strip­ping and grop­ing of women had spread like bush­fire and no woman was safe.

“We be­gan to see men sit­ting in large groups at all hours of the day, wait­ing to at­tack women just be­cause they could. Young girls were also not spared,” re­counts Ju­lia Njoki, a gen­der ac­tivist in Mathare slum.

It is this sad state of af­fairs that prompted a so­cial move­ment, which put the lid on th­ese bru­tal at­tacks as quickly as they had be­gun, pre­vent­ing a catas­tro­phe.

Us­ing the Twit­ter hash­tag #MyDressMyChoice, gen­der and hu­man rights ac­tivists ral­lied Kenyans to the streets to ex­press their dis­gust over the heinous and ret­ro­gres­sive at­tacks on women.

So suc­cess­ful was the cam­paign that it not only caught the at­ten­tion of Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, who con­demned it in the strong­est words pos­si­ble, but it also be­came one of the key amend­ments in­tro­duced into the Pe­nal Code.

The Se­cu­rity Laws (Amend­ment) Act 2014, ar­ti­cle ( 251A) clearly states that “a per­son who in­ten­tion­ally in­sults the mod­esty of any other per­son by forcibly strip­ping such a per­son com­mits an of­fence and is li­able, upon con­vic­tion, to im­pris­on­ment for a term not less than 10 years.”

Grace Gakii, a gen­der ex­pert and is a mem­ber of the women rights move­ment G10, ex­plains that the ini­tial pro­posed amend­ment was even much stiffer.

She says the orig­i­nal pro­posal rec­om­mended a jail term of up to 20 years for gangs sub­ject­ing women to such a se­ri­ous de­gree of pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion.

“But the 10 years are still a big win and not just for women and girls, but for the so­ci­ety. Women’s rights are hu­man rights, and what is bad for women is also bad for men and vice versa,” Gakii says.

Fur­ther, it is a very pro­gres­sive ar­ti­cle in the law “be­cause it speaks to not just phys­i­cal and sex­ual as­sault but to abuse and hu­mil­i­a­tion”.

“When you strip a woman you are also strip­ping her of her dig­nity and re­spect as a hu­man be­ing,” Gakii says.

But ex­actly two years since the heinous ac­tiv­i­ties put Kenya on the global map for all the wrong rea­sons, many are still de­cry­ing the sta­tus of women in Kenya, and par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing their safety in pub­lic spa­ces.

As sta­tis­tics con­tinue to paint a pic­ture of a so­ci­ety that is grow­ing in­creas­ingly in­tol­er­ant of women, many ex­perts are call­ing for more sus­tain­able in­ter­ven­tions to safe­guard the rights of women and girls.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2014 Kenya De­mo­graphic and Health Sur­vey, four of ev­ery 10 women un­dergo some form of vi­o­lence, whether phys­i­cal or sex­ual.

“In fact, the num­bers are much higher be­cause we are still in a so­ci­ety that only views vi­o­lence in two di­men­sions: rape or beat­ing, but there is more than that,” Gakii ex­pounds.

“When a woman is stripped, in­sulted and very abu­sive lan­guage used against her, that is a se­ri­ous form of vi­o­lence, and this is be­com­ing the norm,” she says.

She says that while so­cial me­dia has proven to be a pow­er­ful tool for so­cial trans­for­ma­tion, it has also pro­vided ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able plat­forms for the abuse of women.

“We now have per­pe­tra­tors of all man­ner of vi­o­lence who want to abuse women and girls but also go that ex­tra mile of post­ing the abuse on­line, and this is crim­i­nal,” Gakii says.

With more women now in power, this has not gone un­no­ticed, with var­i­ous women lend­ing their voice to fight vi­o­lence against women and girls.

Nairobi nom­i­nated MCA Leah Mumo says women’s safety must be a pri­or­ity. “I’m per­son­ally very pas­sion­ate about the rights of girls, for they are in­deed not safe in our so­ci­ety.”

She notes that cases of de­file­ment are on the rise, and “if per­pe­tra­tors are not spar­ing de­fence­less ba­bies, how about women in gen­eral?”

Nom­i­nated Sen­a­tor Janet Teiyaa con­curs, say­ing that women are now

/ HEZRON NJOROGE

Women protest in Nairobi streets over the strip­ping of a woman by con­duc­tors for al­legedly be­ing in­de­cently dressed in 2014

/ MIRIAM LESENI

Ju­lia Njoki speaks on the safety of women in the slums.

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