Protesters take to the streets over women’s stripping

Monday November 17 2014

By ELIZABETH McSHEFFREY
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By BERNARDINE MUTANU
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Hundreds of protesters took to Nairobi streets on Monday morning to condemn the humiliating public stripping of three Kenyan women earlier this month.

The mobilisation for the protest started last week through social media under the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice.

On Monday, protesters marched from Uhuru Park to the Embassava Sacco bus stage on Accra Road, where people alleged to be touts were earlier filmed ripping off a woman’s clothes for allegedly dressing indecently.

The sacco officials, however, have denied that the people who stripped the woman were their employees and instead blamed layabouts, whom they did not identify, for the act.

After footage of the attack surfaced online, a community group called Kilimani Mums decided to take action against it.

They created the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice and organised a rally through Facebook and Twitter.

WOMEN NOT HAPPY

“The women of Kenya are not happy about how perpetrators of gender-based violence are let free,” said Wambui Ngige, an event organizer with Kilimani Mums.

“Today is a day to stand together with the women and men of Kenya so that we send a message to the government and the public that we are watching them,” said Ms Ngigi.

The incident at the Embassava stage was not the only one to be witnessed recently.

Days after this incident, footage of a second attack, reportedly in Mombasa, was posted online.

A third video of a woman walking naked near Odeon Cinema in Nairobi was also released only hours before the demonstration.

While the perpetrators of the attacks are reported to have been disgusted by the victims' scanty dressing, activists argued that women have the freedom to dress in whichever way they feel comfortable.

“Instead of teaching our daughter to dress in a certain way, we should be teaching our sons to control themselves and respect women,” said Joan Opiyo, a protester.

GAVE FLOWERS TO TOUTS

At the Embassava stage, the protesters gave rose flowers to matatu touts before marching to Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo’s office to deliver a signed petition against gender-based violence.

A similar appeal was delivered to the Supreme Court of Kenya, where Chief Justice Willy Mutunga condemned the incidents and promised that justice would be done.

“This lawlessness, where we see people attacking women, is against the Constitution.

“Those men are giving other men a bad name. I will deliver this memo to the National Council for Administration of Justice. We will work on it and the reform you want will be delivered,” said Dr Mutunga.

He further urged the public to stop posting videos of such harassment online, saying this it publicises the women’s trauma and encourages similar attacks.

#MyDressMyChoice is a collaborative movement between Kilimani Mums and the Flone Initative, a local non-governmental organisation fighting for gender equality in Kenya.

MEN JOIN PROTEST

Dozens of men also joined in the protest to demonstrate their disgust at the stripping of women.

“We think that it is time that men came out and condemned these acts of lawlessness,” said Thuku Njuguna, vice-chairman of Men for Gender Equality Now.

“We believe that flawed masculinity is what makes someone feel they have a say over what women should wear,” he added.

Not everyone agreed with this analysis, however, and a group of men spoke up in Uhuru Park against the #MyDressMyChoice movement.

“Dressing scantily is bad behaviour. What do they want to show us?”

“We strip them because we want to see what they want to show us,” said anti-protest campaigner Mr Simon Karau.

With the demonstration ending peacefully, the organisers said they hoped its controversy and publicity will help them gain more than 100,000 supporters.