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‘I don't want to be hacked to death!': Kenyans speak out against a spike in murders of women

On October 24, 2017, Fanis Lisiagali, executive director of Healthcare Assistance Kenya, leads the White Ribbon Campaign march and promotes their rapid response call center hotline, which responds to violence against women in elections, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by Carla Chianese, IFES, via Flickr / Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0.

Over a month has passed since the Kenyan young woman, Ivy Wangechi, was murdered on April 9, 2019, in broad daylight, allegedly by Naftali Kinuthia, a childhood acquaintance.

When Wangechi wouldn't take Kinuthia's calls following a recent reunion, he drove to Moi University, in Eldoret, Kenya, where Wangechi studied medicine — and killed her.

In the past five months alone, at least 60 femicide cases have been reported in Kenya, according to “The She Word,” a women’s Pan-African TV programme.

Nearly 40 percent of girls and women between 15 to 49 in Kenya have experienced physical violence at least once in their lifetime, and 24 percent experienced physical violence in 2017, according to the report “Global Study on Homicide: Gender-related killings of women and girls 2018,” conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

And the numbers keep climbing. Parliamentary police officer Helen Kwamboka is the latest victim, who was found brutally murdered inside her locked home in Nairobi. Police suspect her boyfriend, who is now on the run.

Despite the spike in gender-based murders, the issue has been met with indifference. Some have even blamed the murders on women:

But on May 27, 20 female members of parliament in Kenya launched a campaign against femicide called “Her Life Matters,” to raise national consciousness on killings that occur within relationships. The MPs also called for research into the cause of rampant killings among partners in relationships.

While there are laws and guidelines to prevent gender-based violence in Kenya, including the Protection Against Domestic Violence (PADV) Act (2015) and the National Guidelines on the Management of Sexual Violence (2014), they are rarely implemented.

Last month, on April 15, 2019, the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) released a statement calling for decisive action against femicide. FIDA offers mediation and psychosocial support to families and partners in attempts to ensure the safety of women. 

The group requested Kenyans to identify, report and testify against perpetrators of violence.

‘Sitaki shoka!’ ‘I don't want to be axed!’

Global Voices spoke with two Kenyan women, Joyce Nawiri, and Patty Mwangi, who offered their insights on the recent spike in femicides. The interviews took place via WhatsApp on April 23, 2019. Patty Mwangi's name was changed upon her request to protect her identity. 

Global Voices (GV): Do you feel like the current rise of violence toward women has affected you psychologically?

Joyce Nawiri (JN): It has given me a phobia for relationships because there's a risk of me dating such kind of a man.

Patty Mwangi (PM): I was at work when I heard about Wangechi, I was really scared that day. I had to run errands, I was in a haze, I don’t even know how I crossed the road. This guy stopped me from nowhere, I just stood still. It was “flight or faint” moment. But of course, I couldn’t run. In my head, I was wondering if the man wanted to attack me. But he just wanted to ask for directions.

GV: Do you feel safe when you are out alone during the day or at night?

JN: No, I don't. I don't know if an ex or rejected admirer is gonna appear from nowhere and slash me in the middle of the road during the day or at night. I've never felt safe at any time because of fear of being robbed or raped but now I have to add this kind of fear, too.

GV: Has it changed your perception of love and how to tread in its waters?

JN: Yes. How do I tell if a man I'm rejecting won't come back for my neck? How do I tell apart a genuine admirer from a psycho? How do I accept gifts or dates from a man? Personally, I don't accept anything from a man I don't have an interest in. But now I keep thinking, what if I do [because] I'm interested and later on, find out I actually don't like something about him? I'm a bisexual. I don't worry about these kinds of things when I'm dating a girl or when a girl is wooing me.

PM: I'm a sucker for love, but … my feelings have become heightened. If you don't feel safe, run! Trust your gut, it's always right. The red flags are always there if you are careful enough to see. I do my due diligence, I am that kind of person who seeks out information. I research the person I date. It’s not enough to just know someone’s last name.  

GV: How have the government and the police responded to the situation?

JN: To a very little extent. Most of the government is male-dominated. However, I'd like to commend one government official, Mr. Ezekiel Mutua [of the Kenya Film Commission Board], because he recently banned a song called “Pigwa Shoka,” where two men [encourage] their fellow men to brutally attack women who rejected them or played them for their money. This goes a long way in sensitizing the general public about the need to respect women's choices. The police only act when they're bribed or there's a public demand for justice. So they’re also not responsible in any way.

PM: I just think our government is incompetent.

GV: What are the measures that you've taken to stay safe? 

JN: I have threatened to take pictures of men who woo me and post them on social media so that these men stop. I get harassed a lot because of my body. I even carry ginger spray. I'm staying away from male admirers. When they ask for my number I give them my father's number. I've even shouted at male strangers in public places: “sitaki shoka!” [I don’t want to be hacked [to death!] whenever they begin asking for my number.

#EndFemicideNow

Kenyan netizens have taken to social media to call for the end of femicide and violence against women.

Twitter user Rayal George addressed the role that men can play in putting an end to the trend.

And Twitizen Anonymous Kenya agrees:

Hashtags like #HerLifeMatters and #EndFemicideNow have been making rounds on Twitter.

Last month, Siasa Place, a youth-based non-governmental organization, hosted a Twitter chat to discuss the issues surrounding GBV in Kenya and FIDA members were guest speakers.

On May 30, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) will hold a vigil where Kenyans are invited to meet at the University of Nairobi, to show solidarity to the victims of femicide.

2 comments

  • It is so sad and heartbreaking to read about the rising cases of femicide in the country. Raising awareness on GBV will be able to address the issues surrounding GBV and bring to an end femicide and violence against women. Women lives matter.

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