/ 10 February 2024

Kenyan women rage in battle for their lives

Protesters Hold Placards Expressing Their Opinion During The
Angry: Protesters marched countrywide during the Feminists March Against Femicide protest, which was sparked by the recent murders of 26-year-old social media influencer Starlet Wahu and 20-year-old student Rita Waeni. Photo James Wakibia/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of Kenyans marched for women’s safety, but some of the country’s leaders missed the point entirely.

In Kenya’s largest-ever protest against gender-based violence, thousands of women and their allies marched the streets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kilifi and other towns.

The protests followed a surge in the number of women killed in the country. Media reported 14 cases in January alone.

Estimates of the depth of Kenya’s femicide crisis vary widely but all indicate that hundreds of women are killed each year — 725 were murdered in 2022, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

At the recent protests, frustration with political failure on the issue was palpable. 

In Nairobi, Esther Passaris, the parliamentary representative of women in Nairobi County, was booed when she attempted to address the protesters.

Passaris is an ally of President William Ruto and often embraces his “everything is an opportunity” governance style. 

Some of the protesters who booed her also explained on social media that they booed because they associate her with his regime and saw her presence at the protests as political expediency.

For the country’s 2022 survey on health and demographics, researchers asked women and men whether they had experienced physical violence since the age of 15. 

Of the women surveyed, 34% said they had (compared with 27% of men) and 16% said it had happened in the 12 months before the survey.

Also common are attitudes that justify violence against women. In the same survey, 43% of women and 35% of men said they believed that a husband was justified in beating his wife for at least one of eight listed reasons. 

These were: refusing sexual intercourse with him; infidelity; neglecting the children; coming home late; going out without his permission; arguing with him; and refusing to cook or burning the food. 

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read andshared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here