Towards the end of February 2019, a group of women activists organising under the umbrella of Feminists In Kenya published a memorandum of demands addressed to President Uhuru Kenyatta and the 47 County Women MPs.
In the detailed document, the authors demanded that the government, among other things, ought to declare violence against women a national disaster, outlining that the State needed to ‘‘start an open and honest discourse around it and develop a national action plan on violence against women.’’
The move was a precursor to a series of public marches across the country slated for March 8, whose climax would be the delivery of the said memorandum to concerned State agencies.
These efforts by women to be heard by their elected representatives and by society at large were part of marking the globally celebrated International Women’s Day, in which the world takes a moment to evaluate gains made in the area of women’s rights, recognising and safeguarding gains already made and articulating and championing whichever existing and emerging challenges against the rights and freedoms of women across the world.
Mobilising under the hashtag #TotalShutdownKE, the women spoke in a singular, unequivocal voice, saying enough is enough, bearing witness to how women continue living in fear of violent attacks both in their homes and in public, wondering why despite the tens of reported cases of murdered and abused women, no one was taking note.
The memorandum concluded with a nine-point way forward, including a call for the President to address the nation on the matter, with an ultimatum for the Head of State to do so by March 30.
The pain, anger, fear and frustration captured in the statement was palpable. Women were saying they were under siege, with no-one and nowhere to turn to in the face of what was becoming normalised physical and other abuse, coupled with a growing number of gruesome deaths in the hands of men, including those they are related to, those they turned down who transformed into stalkers, as well as complete strangers.
With every passing day, the women’s default position was for them to eternally look over their shoulders, not knowing who will be attacked next, where the attack will occur, how terrifying the abuse or how gory the murder will be, and by which weaponry the act shall be committed.
The marches on March 8 happened as planned, with the accompanying memoranda delivered to the relevant authorities.
It was a desperate cry for help from our sisters, but was anyone listening?
Before the dust could settle on the streets where the women’s marches took place and the ink could dry on the women’s memorandum to the government, news broke of the savage, cold blood murder of Ivy Wangechi, a sixth-year Bachelor of Medicine student at the Eldoret-based Moi University.
Coming from doing her routine rounds at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital where she was a final year student-doctor, the 24-year-old, who was turning 25 in a day’s time, was attacked in broad daylight on the pavement outside the medical facility, where wielding an axe, her murderer, a 28-year-old man, struck her dead in a matter of minutes.
Those who witnessed the gruesome incident narrated a scene no one would want to visualise, imagining the amount of sheer pain the attacker inflicted on Ivy before she breathed her last. Why, one would ask, would any human being deserve to die in so much pain, intentionally inflicted by someone who had travelled all the way from Nairobi to Eldoret to commit the act? Did the perpetrator have no humanity left in him, or what level of inhumanity lived within him for him to plan and go ahead to execute such a horrendous murder?
If nothing else has made us sit up—including the women’s memoranda and their marches on March 8, including the tens of other similarly macabre murders and abuse of women across Kenya—then Ivy’s heart-wrenching killing should trigger us into action, because much as it didn’t have to take her losing her young life for the country to sit up, the message being sent out by her murder and her murderer is that the deaths and abuse of Kenyan women are not about to stop anytime soon, unless something drastic happens.
To Kenyan men, we are all squarely in the dock, guilty of collective sins of omission and commission.
We have failed our sisters by our acts of abuse, our justification of abuse, our refusal to own up to abuse, our half-heartedness in condemning abuse and our unwillingness to speak among ourselves about how we treat the women in our lives and women in general. We must do better as a people, because we can and we must.
To Kenyan women, please accept our collective apology, and renewed solidarity.