Kenyan women fight back against rape

“Poke out his eyes! Kick him between the legs!” Karate expert Duncan Bomba yells instructions at 200 Kenyan schoolgirls watching in amazement as he ferociously attacks a colleague posing as a rapist.

With their navy and white school uniforms, tightly braided hair and socks pulled up to their knees, two girls coyly attempt the moves as Bomba takes on the role of attacker.

Fending him off, the girls draw raucous applause and laughter from their friends.

In a country where activists say one woman is raped every half hour, a growing number of Kenyan women and young girls are learning to defend themselves against assault.

“It’s an innovative idea,” Bomba told Reuters before his lesson at a primary school in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

“It looks unique and strange but we’re able to reduce rape.”

Bomba heads Dolphin, which says it is the only group in Kenya showing women how to prevent sexual assaults with self-defence. It travels to schools, churches and women’s groups nationwide, teaching martial arts, basic wrestling and common sense.

“We show them how they can use what they have to hit what is open on their opponent,” Bomba said.

If a girl has a cold, she can launch mucus at an attacker’s eyes to blind him—or use mud or sand to do the same, he said.

Since founding the organisation in 1998 following a brutal rape in his home town Eldoret in west Kenya, Bomba said the group has trained almost 350 000 students to defend themselves.

“Look at this man as a killer.
Look at him as Aids. Look at him as unwanted pregnancies,” Bomba tells his classes.

Too little, too late

Although hard to quantify, rape is common in Kenya, from Nairobi’s unsafe slums to the country’s unlit country roads.

Only a fraction of women report sexual assaults due to intense cultural stigma and a tradition of blaming the victim. But stories of young girls being raped—many by their own family members—still dominate local newspapers.

One report in 2003 by local and foreign aid agencies said rape and other sexual attacks had increased fourfold since 1999.

Kenya revamped its rape laws for the first time since 1930 in June, hiking jail terms for offenders from five years to life imprisonment. But activists said it was too little, too late.

“The law comes in after the damage is done,” Bomba said. “And you can never reverse what happened.”

His students say his classes have helped, however.

In July, two armed men approached Molly Adhiambo as she sat in her car. She jumped out, elbowed one in the stomach and screamed for help.

“In Nairobi, you usually comply with attackers,” the 41-year-old said. “I wouldn’t have done what I did if I didn’t feel I could hurt them.”

One aid agency said the younger the girl, the more vulnerable she is to rape.

But an eight-year-old child, taught by Dolphin, managed to wrestle off a rapist in Kenya’s notorious Kibera slum by jabbing her fingers into his eye sockets, Bomba said.

Education is power

Despite the positive results Bomba cites, his emphasis on violence has generated some scepticism.

“I don’t see how a 20-year-old girl, even with [such] skills, would be able to disarm five gangsters,” said Dr Sam Thenya, head of Nairobi Women’s Hospital, which sees more than 10 rape victims every day, half of whom are younger than 16.

A woman who tries self-defence might further anger her attacker, he added: “It can provoke an even more severe reaction and someone might be murdered.”

Since rape by relatives is common in the East African country, Thenya said family members and neighbours need to be educated on how to treat women and young girls.

“Everyone must look for ways to protect children and look for potential perpetrators in the home,” he said.

Bomba stressed that his self-defence tactics are only a last resort, and that his students spend half their time learning to avoid dangerous situations—like not walking alone at night or accepting rides from strangers.

After an attack, he said, women should report to police.

Boys and young men also take part in some of his sessions, in which he encourages them to respect women.

Dolphin’s ideas are spreading further afield, and an anti-rape group from Mauritius is now working with it to bring Bomba’s brand of self-defence training to women there.

“Education is power,” Bomba said, stretching his muscles after his session at the Nairobi primary school. “With enough knowledge we can contain any problem.” - Reuters

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