We wish to reiterate the demands of our sisters, the Feminists in Kenya. The President of Kenya must declare violence against womxn a national disaster by the stipulated date and start putting in place the suggested measures to combat it.
Beryl Ouma screamed for more than four hours in her home at Kahawa Sukari as she was beaten using a belt and strangled to death by her husband, Laiko Osuri. She sent her father two flashback messages asking him to call her in that time, but because he was asleep, he did not see or hear them. He awoke when she sent the third, and called her but she did not answer. He was later called back by her husband who said they were having a small disagreement. However, he could hear his daughter crying in pain in the background, asking Osuri not to lie to her father, as he was killing her. She begged to speak to her father, but Osuri hung up. She was later taken to hospital at 7am by Osuri and his parents, having endured this brutal violence since 2 am, but she was pronounced dead on arrival. Neighbours said they had heard her screaming that whole time, but could not do anything. One remarked that it was a fight between husband and wife.
This is the story of many Kenyan womxn. It is the story of Evelyn Musira, who was found lying in a pool of her blood by her neighbours at Oruba Estate in Migori, having been beaten using her crutches then hacked to death using a panga by her husband Lucas Kuria. It is the story of Mary Wambui, who was hit on the head nine times using a pressure cooker before being suffocated and covered up in bedding, and then dumped in a dam in Ruiru. It is suspected that she was killed by her husband Joseph Kori and his mistress Judy Wangui. It is the story of Caroline Mwatha, who was missing for six days before being found dead in what the police claim was a case of a botched backstreet abortion, while human rights activists say it was an execution due to her work documenting extrajudicial killings in Nairobi’s low income informal settlements. It is the story of Christine Maonga, a secondary school teacher who was shot dead by Patrick Nyapara, who is an administration police officer, after an argument about her possible transfer to teach at another school.
These womxn have all been killed between January and March 2019, and at least 21 more have suffered the same fate, if not more. This is why groups of womxn in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa came together on March 8th 2019, International Womxn’s Day, to protest against femicide in Kenya, organizing under the hashtag #TotalShutdownKE. As Renoh Omollo said on the day of the march, “there is a war against our bodies, there is a war against Kenyan womxn and together we are raising our voices to say no to this femicide and violence against womxn. No consequences befall these perpetrators. We note that violence against womxn has been normalized and, therefore, escalating because of the systemic power structures that favor men.”
Indeed, there is a war against our bodies. This crisis has a name: femicide. It is the killing and maiming of womxn because of their gender — the murder of womxn simply because they are womxn. It is what happens when violence against womxn is not only accepted, but also encouraged. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 69% of all womxn intentionally killed in Africa in 2017 were killed by intimate partners or other family members.
The 2018 report Global Study on Homicide: Gender-Related Killing of Womxn and Girls states that “only one out of every five homicides at global level is perpetrated by an intimate partner or family member, yet womxn and girls make up the vast majority of those deaths. Victim/perpetrator disaggregations reveal a large disparity in the shares attributable to male and female victims of homicides committed by intimate partners or family members: 36% male versus 64% female victims.
Womxn also bear the greatest burden in terms of intimate partner violence. The disparity between the shares of male and female victims of homicide perpetrated exclusively by an intimate partner is substantially larger than of victims of homicide perpetrated by intimate partners or family members: roughly 82% female victims versus 18% male victims.
These findings show that even though men are the principal victims of homicide globally, womxn continue to bear the heaviest burden of lethal victimization as a result of gender stereotypes and inequality. Many of the victims of “femicide” are killed by their current and former partners, but they are also killed by fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters and other family members because of their role and status as womxn. The death of those killed by intimate partners does not usually result from random or spontaneous acts, but rather from the culmination of prior gender-related violence. Jealousy and fear of abandonment are among the motives.”
This is why when the police said that Caroline Mwatha died of a botched backstreet abortion, many said she deserved it. It is why Beryl Ouma’s neighbours did not stop her from being beaten and strangled to death, because it was a fight between husband and wife. It is why Laiko Osuri’s (Beryl’s husband) parents helped him downplay the circumstances of her death to her parents and society at large. It is why Evelyn Musira’s husband hacked her to death after an argument. It is why Sharon Otieno’s gruesome death was reduced to a story about “slay queens”.
We are also aware, and call to attention, the fact that these injustices intersect. That the most marginalized and vulnerable in class, gender identity and sexual orientation are the most targeted and forgotten. We demand for an intersectionally just recourse.
In the Kenyan context, there is no disaggregated data on homicide or femicide. However, in light of the stories above, the data on domestic violence as set out in the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey is a valuable indicator of who the major perpetrators of femicide are. The survey notes that although the percentages of men and womxn aged 15–49 years who have been victims of violence are roughly the same, with womxn at 45% and men at 44%, the perpetrators of violence are vastly different. In particular:
“…Among ever-married womxn, the most commonly reported perpetrator of physical violence is the current husband or partner (57 percent) followed by the former husband/partner (24 percent). By contrast, among ever-married men, the most common perpetrators are those in the “other” category (46 percent), followed by teachers (29 percent). Only about 1 in 10 men who have experienced physical violence since age 15 mention their current spouse as a perpetrator of physical violence.”
Violence against womxn, which culminates in femicide, is a result of the status of womxn as inferior beings in patriarchal societies like Kenya. This inferior status defines them as objects upon which men specifically, and society in general, can inflict their hatred, derive their pleasure, and exact their ownership over their lives and bodies at will, without regard for the rights and freedoms of womxn. Violence against womxn is borne of the inequality created by patriarchy, and is used to subdue womxn who are seen to have “overstepped their bounds” at home, and in public and political spaces.
It is not enough to refer to these deaths as murders or homicides, as that would obscure the fact that these womxn were killed because it is acceptable to violate and kill womxn. It is acceptable to deny us our right to life, our right to equality and freedom from discrimination, our human dignity, our freedom of expression and association, and the security of our persons. We must call this crisis what it is: femicide.
There is no single solution to addressing femicide. Fighting this scourge will require joint efforts of all arms of government, the media, and each and every one of us. For starters, we need to change the attitudes and narratives around femicide both online and offline. womxn being killed by their partners or other actors (such as police officers, taxi drivers etc) cannot be the “cost of doing business”. There should be no “acceptable” reasons to kill womxn for being womxn. Justifications such as “I paid her school fees (which was a lie)” or “she was a slay queen” or “she had had an abortion” should not be acceptable.
We need to recognise femicide for the tragedy it is, and, in the same way that we do not accept excuses when it comes to terrorism, stop accepting justifications for femicide. The duty to change the narrative around femicide falls primarily on the media. They are the chief source of information on femicide cases. A 2018 survey conducted by Amnesty International Kenya found that 81% of Kenyans believe in the media’s power to address human rights issues. If there is anyone who is primely placed to lead this change of narrative and attitude, it is the Kenyan media. There is also a shared responsibility on all consumers of media to call them out when they trivialise and sensationalise the brutal murder of womxn.
Other solutions to femicide in Kenya were presented during the #TotalShutdownKE march in the form of a memorandum of demands. This memorandum was addressed to the to the President of Kenya and all 47 womxn Representatives, and copies were delivered to both Parliament and the President (through the State Law Office). In addition to perfectly articulating the plight of womxn in Kenya the memorandum demanded that:
- The President of Kenya declare violence against womxn a national disaster by 30th March 2019.
- A commitment be made to never appoint, to cabinet or any lead government institution, any individual who has been implicated as a perpetrator of violence.
- Existing laws and action plans be reviewed to determine why they have failed to protect womxn from violence and murder.
- Inclusion of feminism discourse and values ( inclusion, diversity, equality, dignity, empathy and compassion) in government institutions;
- The development of a National Action Plan Against Violence and Femicide. The development of this plan should be led by and dominated by womxn;
- Provision of a police department that will solely deal with violence against womxn (including rape and femicide). This department must include officers who are specially trained to handle and investigate these cases.
- Consistent, tight and punitive laws which are enforced against perpetrators of violence against womxn
- An immediate media campaign to raise awareness on the prevalence of violence against womxn in all its various forms; and
- Free and comprehensive legal aid to survivors of violence.
We note that the deadline of 30th of March 2019 is fast approaching and there has been no acknowledgement of this memorandum from the womxn Representatives nor the President of Kenya. There has also not been any indication from either of them that they are taking this hazard (which has resulted in a death toll that has surpassed that of many previously declared national disasters) seriously.
We would therefore like to reiterate the demands of our sisters, the Feminists in Kenya. The President of Kenya must declare violence against womxn a national disaster by the stipulated date and start putting in place the suggested measures to combat it.
The government of Kenya cannot continue to disregard the lives and safety of over 52% of the citizens.