|The architects of the ongoing political violence appear determined to push all the buttons they can to turn Kenya on its head. When they are not setting houses on fire or chopping up people from unwanted communities, they are subjecting their victims to rape and sexual harassment.
The Nairobi Women’s Hospital reported this week that it had treated 94 children who had been sexually abused. Of the 242 patients, 213 were female and 29 male. Most of those attacked had been gang-raped. These statistics refer to Nairobi and its environs. Only the Good Lord knows how much damage has been done in other parts of the country.
The chief executive of the hospital, Dr Sam Thenya, is mighty worried. He reckons the campaign against Aids has been dealt a body blow, with both those raped and the rapists exposed to HIV.
AS IF THAT IS NOT ENOUGH, THE militia groups have now decided to enforce a dress code on women. You wear trousers and mini-skirts at great risk in Nakuru, Naivasha and Limuru. Women in those areas have been humiliated, robbed and beaten for exercising their freedom of choice.
What do trousers and mini-skirts have to do with who is in State House, for pity’s sake? They can be half-mast, cut-off, literally plastered on, loose and airy or whatever. Why that should be anyone else’s business is a total mystery.
If you find trousers and mini-skirts offensive, you have the freedom to look the other way. And you can take comfort in the fact that there’s no law that will force you and your loved ones to wear them. For me, it is a very straightforward issue: if you feel good and comfortable in them, go ahead. It’s your body, your trousers and your mini-skirt.
You can question the sanity and morals of those who wear them, if you are that way inclined, but the one thing you can’t get away with is to abuse and molest those who choose to dress that way. And turning it into a political cause is a definite no-no. This is the price of democracy, which we appear to have trouble understanding.
The last time I gave it any thought, Kenya was a free country and women had the right to wear clothes of their choice. Any limits to this basic right fell more within the bounds of reason and etiquette than crime punishable by the mob.
And, so, while it would hardly be a crime to walk down Nairobi’s Kenyatta Avenue in an outfit better suited to the Samba carnivals of Brazil, common sense would demand that you are more modest in the central business district. Everything has its time and place and we are better advised to match the attire with the occasion. But that doesn’t give strangers the right to assault women whenever and wherever they wish.
So we had a botched election. It set off a spiral of attacks and reprisals that have made our lives hellish in the past month or so. We cannot lay the blame for this on the doorstep of women and what they wear.
Indeed, women have been notably absent in the machete-wielding gangs that appear to have free run of some parts of the country. They are too busy dealing with the consequences of war. They are barely represented in the power stakes, at any rate.
This is clearly a case of double jeopardy. Women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Throughout history, rape has been used as a weapon of war. Now Kenya joins the ranks of countries where women and girls have borne the brunt of political upheavals they had nothing to do with in the first place. Their crime, if you can call it that, is to have been born female and to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It is a power thing, and women have long been placed in that category called the spoils of war. Some people collect scalps, others women. When they are done fighting each other, they look for ways to add insult to injury. This is where women and girls come in.
Should this violence continue, we can expect more sexual attacks on them. When the warring factions run out of their preferred targets, they inevitably turn to those likely to offer the least resistance. They must not be allowed to get away with it.
Things have moved somewhat in Naivasha, and some 22 people have been arrested for manhandling women. We wait with bated breath. How the system deals with this spin-off to the political crisis is crucial. Violence tends to take on a life of its own and there’s no accounting for which group will be targeted next.
SHOULD THERE BE NO QUICK RESOLUTION to the State House question, the gangs might well decide to sambaza their anger to bigger prey. And then all the burglar-proofing in the world will not protect our lives and limbs.
The big debates have focused on the economic downturn that this internecine war has wreaked, and it is not a bad angle to look at. Money does make the world go round. There have been heart-rending questions over whether Kenya is headed for that box labelled “failed states”. Some have agonised over the social falling out.
I suggest that we worry more about the damage to our moral standing. This has nothing to do with trousers and mini-skirts, however titillating that debate may be. Nothing can be more immoral than killing a human being just because they belong to a different community. Isn’t it ironical that the very same people who have blood on their hands, should take the moral high ground over what women choose to wear?