25 Mar 2015
There has been some progress to get justice for women being publicly assaulted in Kenya. In late December 2014, the Security Laws (Amendment) Act of 2014 became law. While there are serious issues surrounding provisions in the law that run counter to protecting human rights, Article 17 criminalizes these strippings. In January 2015, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution brought criminal charges against some of the men responsible for these violent attacks. We continue to monitor these cases as they proceed through the criminal justice system.
As a result of our campaign to address sexual violence against Kenyan women and girls, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mutunga invited Equality Now to join the high level policy making, National Council on the Administration of Justice. Membership on the Council includes judges, prosecutors, police, the Kenya Law Reform Commission and members of civil society who are key to reforming the justice system and ensuring gender equality. We will use the opportunity to hold Kenya accountable to its national, regional and international obligations to prevent all forms of violence against women and to provide adequate resources to address the large scale of gender-based violence.
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“The stripping of women in various parts of Kenya last week has nothing to do with the decency or morality of the victims. These outrageous acts indicate to us all that violence against women is deeply engrained in the psyche of the Kenyan nation. So much so that hooligans can perpetrate openly criminal acts with such audacity and impunity. This is unacceptable.”
– Kavinya Makau, Equality Now
On 10 November 2014, a group of bus conductors surrounded a woman at Nairobi’s busy Embassava Saaco bus station and violently stripped her for being “indecently dressed” and a “jezebel.” Dozens looked on as the woman was assaulted and one filmed the entire attack, which was posted to social media. A few days later, in what appears to have been “copycat crimes,” several more women were violently attacked and publicly stripped in Nairobi and Mombasa. In each of the incidents, bystanders watched on as the violations occurred. The taped attacks have ignited debate, a #MyDressMyChoice campaign and a social outcry against ongoing and rising violence against women in Kenya. Though authorities publicly condemned the attacks, much more than words is needed to prevent and penalize such brazen violence.
In the days following the initial attack, a Facebook group called the ‘Kilimani Mums’, joined together with Africa UNiTE Kenya Chapter and other concerned citizens to organize a public rally in solidarity with the survivors and to take a stand against violence against women. On 17 November, hundreds of men and women – including members of Equality Now – marched through Nairobi’s central business district, first to the Embassava bus station, and then to the Inspector General of Police and the Chief Justice to demand justice and an end to these attacks. In Kenya, one in five women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime and an estimated 45% of Kenyan women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence – and these numbers are likely to be much higher, as survivors rarely report the attack to authorities.
During the peaceful demonstration, however, some bus conductors confronted the activists, threatening violence and yelling “you will wear clothes” while ripping pieces of clothing and shoving and throwing rocks at demonstrators. Other bystanders harassed passing women, shouting lewd comments. One woman remarked, “I joined the protest feeling empowered to see so many coming together to stand up against violence against women, but in leaving, I felt more unsafe as a woman in my own city, especially considering the police were standing by watching as things escalated.”
The attacks in Kenya underscore the large scale of sexual and gender-based violence that persists in societies around the world. Such violence reinforces a power dynamic that women and their bodies are public property, open for public comment, harassment or worse. Today we want action; we have had enough of patriarchal norms that dictate what a woman wears and rob women of their personal rights and autonomy.
Kenya must uphold the rights of all its citizens and protect women and girls from sexual violence, in line with the 2010 Constitution, the Sexual Offenses Act, the Penal Code, and its obligations under regional and international human rights instruments. As a party to the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, Kenya is required to prevent all forms of violence against women – particularly sexual and verbal violence – and to ensure that adequate resources are allocated towards this obligation, including preventative and monitoring measures.