‪#‎RedressForOurWomen‬ : From Street Harassment To Stripping To Sexual Assault

My country Kenya, keeps breaking my heart as it continuously proves just how hostile it is towards us, women. Earlier today, news broke on social media about a woman who was raped in a matatu. Someone took a video of the rape because it is more important to be the source of a viral video than it is to help a woman. The video has been making its rounds online. I haven’t watched it and will not be doing so because I cannot bring myself to see yet another woman be violated. I got chills reading a tweet describing what those sadistic so-called men did to the woman.  A man, who I assume watched the video, responded to that particular tweet with, “Why wasn’t she wearing underwear?” Seriously!? A woman was raped, people watched, others recorded it, and all some idiot is concerned about is underwear!? That’s when you know we live in a society that is heavily invested in rationalizing the violation of women.

These past few weeks we have seen videos of and heard about women being stripped naked because they were dressed “indecently.” One of the women was stripped because she simply asked that the man who bought eggs from her pay up. Yes, she did what our society teaches us women not to do – demand what belongs to her. The gang that stripped her jumped on the “indecently” dressed bandwagon of course because they knew what we all know, the morality police and victim blaming army would keep them safe.

When, we women and the men who openly stand with us, mobilized around #MyDressMyChoice, the foot soldiers of patriarchy claimed that we were advocating for “indecency.” Never mind that (in)decency is subjective. “They want to walk around naked,” they said. They insisted on missing the point of #MyDressMyChoice  and poured all their energy into rubbishing the efforts that women and select men were/are making towards advocating for women’s rights and putting an end to the violence meted out against us on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, the videos, social media and mainstream media commentary have proven what we, Kenyan women, have known all along – our men are our biggest threat. There are very few safe spaces for women in our country. We are surrounded by men who feel/think that they have the rights to a woman’s body.

I can’t count the number of times I have been harassed while walking around minding my own business. From the “smile supuu, umeiva jo,” to the random men who grab my hand, and hold on tight all the while insisting on having a conversation. Of course refusing to respond almost always results in being verbally abused. Suddenly you go from being a “supuu” to “sura kama kiatu.” Because how dare a woman reject a man’s advances when she should be grateful for getting attention from said man!?

Street harassment is scary and cannot be explained away by saying “Oh don’t take it seriously. He is just complimenting you.” There have been many occasions when I have been soaked in fear, praying that a man doesn’t physically attack me, as I walked away from/ignored his catcalls. It’s not an experience that I would wish on anyone, yet women go through it daily.

Enough is enough. It is time to put an end to violence against women. No, you don’t have to think of the victim as your mother/wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter/aunt in order to fight for women’s rights. You fight because women are human beings who deserve to live free of fear and violence. Our value isn’t derived from our relationships with men. It is derived simply from being human beings.

We can no longer continue to be silent as women are being violated. We cannot continue to rationalize and explain away this violence. We can’t ignore it either. We must stand up and speak out against it. We must stop using culture and religion to condone the violence. We must stop victim blaming and shaming. We can’t afford to be complacent about women’s safety and security. We must protect women.

Kenyan men – why are you so hostile towards us? Before you say “not all men” first ask what you, “the good man,” are doing to protect women. If your answer is “nothing” then you are also part of the problem. As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So do something. Don’t stand there and record a video as a woman is being violated, help her. Don’t keep quiet when your friend is busy catcalling women, call him out and let him know you won’t stand for it.

Select Kenyan women – do you not love yourself? Stop with the “I don’t condone “indecency” but blah blah,” “If only we girls dressed better…,” “We should teach our girl self-value…,” and “Let’s first have self-respect ladies…” Your respectability politics is not going to stop the violence and neither is it going to protect any of us from these brutal men. We all need to actively participate in ending violence against our own beings.

Religious types – what God do you serve? I know my God did not create me to be oppressed and violated, neither is it His intention for me to live in perpetual fear. Every time a woman is violated you come out swinging with your Bible and scripture quotes. “The Bible says this and that about being a good woman.” “Oh, even Adam and Eve had to cover up, why not you?” “Exposing yourself is not Christian-like.” “Your body is the temple…cover up.” Really, you need to stop with the selective Christianity.  Ask yourself, “What Would Jesus Do?” before you pelt bible verses at victims and turn a blind eye to injustice.

Mainstream media – what did women do to you? What are these “Is it right to strip a woman for being “indecent”?” discussions about? There are no two sides to these stories. There is no debate to be had about the safety of women. There is certainly no neutrality when it comes to this. As Desmond Tutu aptly put it, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Government – do you even care? Your silence is loud especially you, women representatives. What type of leaders are you? Argh. “For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women” ~ Nelson Mandela.

Social media scum and morality police – Yes you, Robert Alai types. Do us all a favor and jump off a cliff. The world could do without your brand of stupid.

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is also the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. As far as I am concerned, we should work/fight/write/campaign/protest every day to prevent and end violence against women and girls globally.

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