Why is Kenya grappling with an increase in femicides?

Screenshot from YouTube video, ‘Stop killing us Men! Over 10,000 Women march in Nairobi streets against FEMICIDE‘ by Jalango TV., January 2024. Fair use.

On Saturday, January 27, women and feminists rallied online and in the streets of Kenya to protest the reported rise in femicide, and demand accountability.

According to The EastAfrican, the nationwide protest, dubbed ‘Feminists March Against Femicide,’ occurred in 11 counties: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Homabay, Turkana, Kilifi, Machakos, Kisii and Nyeri, drawing more than 10,000 participants.

As reported by the UK Guardian, Femicide Count Kenya, an NGO documenting women's killings, recorded 152 cases, the highest in the past five years. Investigative platforms Africa Uncensored and Africa Data Hub estimate that about 500 Kenyan women were murdered between 2017 and 2024.

Kenya has a current population of over 55 million, with females making up over 50 percent, as reported by the World Bank, and the rise in killings of women has instilled fear.

Recent incidents, such as the brutal murders of Starlet Wahu and Rita Waeni, have sparked outrage. Social media hashtags like #EndFemicideKE and #TotalShutDownKE have been created.

The Guardian highlighted a 2022 survey revealing that over one in three women in Kenya reported having experienced physical violence, while The EastAfrican reported that UN Women studies show Africa recorded the highest absolute number of female intimate-partner and family-related killings, with an estimated 20,000 victims.

Women's and girls’ rights in Kenya are safeguarded by Article 27 of the Constitution, with the Penal Code outlining penalties for violence against them. The Kenyan police operate a specialized gender desk, addressing issues specific to gender-based violence as reported by Al Jazeera. Furthermore, Kenya has adopted treaties aimed at combating gender-based violence, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Despite strong laws and policies against gender-based violence, activists argue that government policies are ineffective and the justice system is slow and corrupt, leaving many perpetrators unpunished, as emphasized in a post by a user on X (formerly Twitter):

Additionally, an article in The Conversation emphasizes the perpetuating factors behind the problem of sexual violence in Kenya, including societal attitudes, media misconceptions, and health and legal challenges.

As highlighted in the article, gender roles and expectations in Kenyan society contribute to power imbalances, cultivating a misogynistic culture that encourages young men to be sexually aggressive, while simultaneously expecting girls to adhere to ideals of chastity.

Widespread myths about rape often blame the victim and absolve the perpetrator, resulting in a lack of accountability for the murderers and credibility questioning for survivors. Those who have experienced rape in Kenya encounter hurdles such as disbelief, victim-blaming, and delays in accessing support and justice.

As noted in the article by The Conversation, addressing these issues necessitates legal reforms, increased representation of women in government, and comprehensive education on sex, violence, and rights in schools.

The Conversation article also underscores the importance of media training to prevent further victimization of survivors through insensitive reporting.

Additionally, it points out that survivors of rape in Kenya often face delays in receiving medical care and police assistance, lowering the chances of obtaining crucial evidence of the crime. This is attributed to factors such as lack of training, corruption, and the imposition of fees for services that should be provided free of charge.

While Harriet Chiggai, an advisor to the Kenyan president, condemned the recent femicide cases on January 19, Kenya's director of criminal investigations, Mohamed Amin, has established a special unit to expedite investigations of femicide cases in response to the protests. However, activists argue that the creation of the new unit, while a positive step, is insufficient. They emphasize the need for broader changes, including shifts in attitudes within police forces and parliament, to effectively address the issue of femicides.

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