There’s a section of women and girls in this country that has been, and continues to be, treated unfairly.
Cases of women and girls with mental challenges and other disabilities being subjected to sexual and physical violence are rife.
Some have been able to seek intervention from the courts, but in most cases, justice has been long in coming, if at all.
Of this latter cadre, those with mental challenges suffer the most. I’m sure you can relate to a situation where, in the village, you’ve seen a woman or even a teenager, with no fixed abode, who gets pregnant from the blue. They go ahead to deliver. The baby’s father is hardly known.
Clearly, the women and girls are sexually harassed, abused and raped. Somehow, the poor women deliver and some remain in the streets with their babies while the lucky few are rescued by Good Samaritans.
Has anybody ever paused to ask who the abusers of such women and girls are? How many times have we seen such people apprehended and punished?
There is this case of an 11-year-old mentally challenged girl in Murang’a, whose mother abandoned and left in the care of her poverty-ridden grandmother.
The grandmother formed a habit of throwing the baby into a sheep’s cage before setting off to do odd jobs. That was to be the child’s life.
She never got to speak. Just before her 10th birthday, the grandmother was shocked to discover that the girl was pregnant, days to delivery. A Good Samaritan took the girl to a rescue centre.
She stayed at the centre until she delivered safely. The baby was given away for adoption and the girl was moved to a children’s home in Nairobi.
Today, other than the culprit, no one knows who fathered that baby. And no one seems to care.
The Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw) has been involved in a project to help intellectually challenged women and girls, victims of sexual and gender violence access justice.
A common denominator in these cases is how long they take to be addressed in court and ensure justice is served.
In the majority of the cases, as if dragging in courts is not bad enough, they usually get dismissed for lack of evidence.
It appears that those presiding over such cases are blind to the situation of the victims, who need to be handled with sensitivity.
They have no time to go out of their way to ensure the victims get justice.
In April 2015, a mentally challenged girl was gang raped in Nyahururu. The matter was taken to court with Covaw holding brief for the girl.
The pace of the case was painfully slow. Initially, three men were jointly accused of the rape while an accomplice’s case was in another court.
The two cases were later consolidated to save the victim the trauma of reliving the abuse in different courts.
Anyway, after dragging on for more than four years, the victim had to contend with further trauma. To her shock, the case was dismissed this month “for lack of evidence" even as it was observed that there was penetration.
The suspected gang walked out of court with broad smiles.
As the family and Covaw ponder the ruling, it’s important to note that this is not an isolated case. Many such girls and women are out there praying and hoping for justice.
It is not a coincidence then that participants in last week’s fifth session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD) in Marrakesh, Morocco, called for attention to women with disabilities, demanding that their plight be addressed as a priority in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet), for instance, was categorical that African governments remain true to their commitments that all citizens will be reached within the 2030 and 2063 Agendas.
And as was rightly and aptly put by Femnet’s executive director Memory Kachambwa, “that person to be reached is the woman or girl with disabilities and facing multiple inequalities in any of Africa’s vast locations-remote rural areas, informal settlements and conflict stricken areas, who barely stand a chance for a better life".
Njeri Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] Twitter: @nrugene