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
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
Women protest in Nairobi streets over the stripping of a woman by conductors for allegedly being indecently dressed in 2014
Julia Njoki speaks on the safety of women in the slums.