If you walked into the production wing of Nation Centre’s third floor on any Thursday, you would be forgiven for thinking that the staff are mourning a colleague, as you are sure to encounter a group of women in black.
The senior editors and an editorial secretary have been observing the weekly ritual for well over a year, part of an informal global resistance movement, “Thursdays in Black”, which advocates against rape and gender-based violence.
It is spearheaded by the World Council of Churches (WCC), whose headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland, and which has a fellowship of 350 member churches representing more than half a billion Christians, mostly Protestants.
The women’s mode of dressing is towards obeying a clarion call for the movement: “Wear black on Thursdays. Wear a pin to declare you are part of the global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence. Show your respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence. Encourage others to join you,” says the message, posted on the WCC website.
It goes on: “Often, black has been used with negative racial connotations. In this campaign, black is used as a colour of resistance and resilience.”
Thursdays in Black groups are informal and self-regulating. They are free to download WCC artwork for campaign material that include flyers, badges, T-shirts, cloth bags and roll-up banners.
By wearing black, the activists silently raise their voice against gender-based violence, a vice that knows no race, age or geographical boundaries.
One of the adherents of this movement is Rev Lucy Waweru, director of Christian education at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) headquarters in Nairobi’s South C.
One of Rev Waweru’s ways of contributing to the movement is by sharing materials on the “silent protest” with staff. “Slowly, we are transforming the look of Thursdays,” she says.
Another woman passionate about the movement is Dr Nyambura Njoroge, the first woman to be ordained minister by the PCEA.
She is also a long-serving director of the HIV and Aids Advocacy and Initiatives by the WCC.
Dr Nyambura has been keeping tabs on issues violence and her collection of cases of violence against girls and women reads like a catalogue from hell.
The WCC website that Dr Nyambura shared with this writer describes gender-based violence as “a tragic reality” in every country.
And, unlike the gruesome cases the Nation has reported on the front pages before — like the murder of Rongo University student Sharon Otieno and her unborn baby a year ago, and that of Moi University student Ivy Wangeci last April — the violence is silent and pervasive.
“This violence is frequently hidden and victims are often silent, fearing stigma and further violence,” says WCC.
“We all have a responsibility to speak out against violence, to ensure that women and men, boys and girls, are safe from rape and violence in homes, schools, work, streets — in all places in our societies.”
At the Nation Centre, the women who take part in the movement are confident that their advocacy is never in vain.
Ms Catherine Kitaka, a sub-editor, explains her affinity with the drive: “I just want women and girls to be free. This [movement] is about safety for girls and women. I don’t want women and girls to be violated by men; it takes a toll on them.”
For editorial secretary Mary Mwambia, the campaign’s slogan says it all. “Look,” she says pointing at the badge on her black top. “I’m campaigning ‘towards a world without rape and violence.’”
Sub-editor Judy Ogecha supports the campaign “because rape and violence do great damage to women’s and girls’ self-esteem and should be stopped at all costs”.
Ms Catherine Wanyama, NMG’s editorial manager, highlights the campaign’s worldwide nature: “This is a big global campaign and I’d like to support it. If it will save the life of somebody somewhere out there, man, woman, boy or girl, all the better.”