Opportunities for self-development for women and girls in Africa have expanded over the years, thanks to the advocacy by women’s rights organisations that have made it a fulltime venture to look out for and fight against discrimination and abuse.
It is also encouraging that the continent’s youth — both women and men — are embracing the gender movement, actively and publicly leading campaigns for women’s empowerment and denouncing all sorts of abuse against women.
Despite all that, however, it is clear that we are miles from achieving freedom from violence against women and girls.
Kenya, specifically, is doing badly on this front. In the past couple of weeks, we have witnessed horrible public spectacles depicting a society that seems to not only have become unresponsive to women’s abuse but is hell-bent on abetting it.
For what can one make of, for instance, the shameful incident last month, when a woman was raped in broad daylight in a busy street in downtown Nairobi as a crowd cheered? Among that strange crowd was a man cheering on the rapist and urging his screaming victim to “allow” her attacker “some little pleasure”.
The subdued woman was made even more desperate when she realised that the complicit crowd was recording her predicament on video and begged her attacker to appeal to his partners-in-crime to stop. How low can we really get?
Equally disturbing was the insinuation by the police that the rape was by mutual consent!
Violence against women, it appears, doesn’t stop in the streets; its perpetrators have become bolder and more belligerent. During a ward by-election in Nyeri County last month, poll observer Martha Miano was beaten up by a man in a mob that was hurling insults at her at Ndunduini Police Station as senior police officers watched — and under the full glare of media cameras.
EXPORTED BAD MANNERS
But even before the dust had settled, a politician from the same county exported the bad manners to neighbouring Tanzania. Last week, Magutu MCA Pauline Wanjira was nursing eye and deep tissue injuries after she was reportedly attacked by her colleague at a training workshop in Arusha. Anthony Dagita is said to have punched and kicked her at a social place.
Unfortunately, there has been limited public condemnation, from both political leaders and the civil society.
Away from the prying eyes of the media, many girls and women continue to suffer in silence in rural areas, subjected to untold abuse such as sexual and physical violence. Domestic violence is prevalent as the community treats it as normal. A recent experience in my village comes to mind.
I listened in horror and consternation as a neighbour narrated to me how he was woken up at night by screams, armed himself and ran out in a rescue mission.
To his “relief’’, he narrated, it turned out that it was a man beating his wife. He just went back to sleep.
All these point to the need for more agitation and louder campaigns. Importantly, women’s rights activists must take their campaigns deeper in the rural areas. Their activities ought to be as fiery — if not more — as in the cities and major towns.
Women’s rights organisations must ensure the implementation of resolutions at this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status Women (CSW62) to ensure the rights and development of rural women and girls.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “Our ability to address the needs of women and girls who live in rural areas is the biggest contribution we can make to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved.’’
Local leaders must also play a more active role in the protection of women from abuse and violence. The behaviour of treating women badly has to be fought and brought to an end.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] Twitter: @nrugene