Comment & analysis
Battered, bruised, broken, they trudge on
The War on Kenyan Women
2009-01-29, Issue 417
The period between December 2007 and March 2008 will go down as one of the darkest periods in the history of Kenya. The magnitude of the violence that greeted the announced results of the December 2007 presidential elections was hitherto inconceivable in the minds of Kenyans. The country faced its worst political and governance crisis yet. There was gross destruction and looting of property, staggering loss of life (approximately 1,133 between December 2007 and 29th February 2008 ), horrifying sexual violence, maiming and displacement of more than 300,000 people  amidst claims of electoral fraud.
Women and children bore the brunt of this post-election crisis. In addition to losing their husbands, children and other family members; having their property destroyed and being forced to flee from their homes, their bodies were used as the war zone - a battlefield for opposing forces. They were forced to stand by and witness their mothers, fathers, sisters and family members being killed, raped and maimed.
Women and girls were sexually violated in the most gruesome manner. They were raped and gang raped. Others had their genitals mutilated by machetes, and/or by violent penetration with bottles and other foreign objects.
These sexual crimes occurred during flight and during civilian displacement. The perpetrators of these heinous acts were insurgency groups, security forces (General Service Unit-GSU and Administration Police) and even humanitarian aid workers in the IDP camps.
According to the Commission of Inquiry into the Post Election Violence (CIPEV) report, many victims allowed members of the security forces into their houses believing they would help them. The security agents however turned against these women and raped them. In some instances, one of them would stand guard outside the house while his colleagues raped the women inside their houses.
It is however unclear as to the extent of sexual violence during the post election period due to the non- reporting of the cases. Women survivors of sexual attacks viewed reporting their attacks as a lesser priority compared to other immediate concerns such as security, access to food and the well being of their children .
Also, the involvement of the Police in raping women and girls heavily contributed to the underreporting of sexual violations. This is captured in the sentiments of a survivor in Eldoret, who said, "It is a police officer who raped me, how could I even contemplate reporting the attack to his friends. It’s only God who will judge him ."
Women were also barred from reporting the violations by:
- the stigma surrounding rape,
- lack of awareness on women’s rights
- lack of information on mechanisms that they could pursue to report the incidences and seek redress,
- inability to identify the abusers,
- fear of reprisal attacks and
- fear of their reports being doubted.
The women fled their homes with their severely bruised and battered bodies to ‘safer’ areas, which included churches, schools and public showgrounds. The showgrounds were turned into camps for the displaced persons. Humanitarian organizations such as the Kenya Red Cross and UNHCR among others provided tents, food, medication and other basic needs for the displaced.
Once in the ‘safe havens’, the IDP camps, women quickly realized that the camps were not as secure as they had envisioned. The tents had no privacy, and in most cases, children and parents shared the same tents. This meant that husbands and wives could not engage in sexual activities, as their children were present. Some men therefore ventured into other tents in search of sexual satisfaction from young girls or single women.
Rape and sexual exploitation continued, perpetrated this time by security agents and service providers as well as fellow internal refugees. Young girls were waylaid on their way to relieve themselves and raped by young men or security agents in the camps. It became dangerous to venture outside the tents at dusk.
“"My daughter was molested in this camp at around 7pm when she had left the tent to visit the toilet. When I came home, I was informed about the incident and took her to hospital" Internally Displaced woman at the ASK showground- Eldoret.
Single women and mothers, unable to provide basic needs for themselves and their children were forced to engage in transactional sex in exchange for food, blankets and other basic amenities.
Their married counterparts, though less vulnerable to external sexual aggression found themselves at the receiving end of domestic violence. Unemployed and displaced men released their frustration through spousal and child abuse. Some engaged in casual sexual encounters with other women in the camps in full view of their wives.
Some women who had been raped experienced yet another trauma. Their husbands, unable to bear the shame associated with rape, and their own failure to protect their women, divorced them at the time when the women needed them most. Other women were divorced on grounds of belonging to the then “politically incorrect” ethnic group.
Women watched helplessly as their daughters lost their innocence through rape or sexual exploitation. They were powerless, alone, abandoned, isolated, and felt unable to cope with the situation.
The violence brought to the fore startling facts such as:
-Serious abdication by the state from its duty to protect and promote rights and freedoms. For instance, Police officers whose mandate is to protect citizens were instead the key perpetrators of sexual violence on hapless citizens. This reality was made apparent when the Police commissioner in his statement to the Commission on Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) asserted that no reports on sexual violence were made to the police stations, yet his officers were among the perpetrators of the violence.
-The status of women in Kenyan society is still far below that of men. Breakdowns of law and moral order during conflict exacerbate the situation.
- Sexual torture of civilian women and girls during periods of armed conflict is an invisible issue, ignored by politicians and the world at large.
Justice Waki, who presided over the Commission on Post-Election violence, stated: “Sexual violence is silent, and preying because it is underreported, under-investigated and insufficiently addressed.
The Waki Commission was the first in Kenya’s history to isolate sexual and gender-based violence for special attention.
- Personnel at government institutions are not adequately prepared to handle cases of Sexual and Gender Based violence.
- Most women are unaware of their rights and their entitlements under the Sexual Offences Act.
- There is lack of knowledge on post rape care measures among citizens. Many women who were violated did not seek medical attention within the 72-hour-window for post-exposure treatment to prevent HIV infection.
With aching hearts and bodies, minimal medication and with even less counseling, the displaced women held on. They had a desire to rebuild their crumbled lives. Some wove baskets and sold them; others sold groceries and engaged in any available means of income generation.
A year on, and as the rest of the country breathes a sigh of relief that the violence is forgotten, women victims of the violence are still trying to reconstruct their lives. Children born out of rape, physical scars, HIV, other dreaded sexually transmitted infections; widowhood, divorce, homelessness and biting poverty will not allow these women to easily forget the dark period. However, they trudge on, physical and emotional scars notwithstanding.
As long as women rights continue to be violated during peacetime, then such violence against women during conflict is inevitable.
- Address pre-existing conditions- underlying causes that trigger violence against women, e.g. inability to handle diversity (race, gender, and ethnicity), abuse of natural resources, political greed, etc.
- Immediate implementation of the Witness Protection Act 2008-12-04 and domestication of the Great Lakes Pact on peace, security and development especially the protocol on suppression of sexual violence.
- Political will is required to profile sexual and gender-based violence on a par with other serious crimes. Sexual violence is one of the worst things that can happen to an individual.
Address the persistence of patriarchy in Kenya. Create ‘alternative masculinities’, that change the way men understand and express their masculinities, particularly as pertaining to power, violence and patriarchy.
- End the deeply entrenched culture of impunity for sexual violence in Kenya. The CIPEV report recommends that a special tribunal be set up as a court that will sit within Kenya to seek accountability against persons bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes, particularly crimes against humanity, relating to the 2007 elections.
-CIPEV report should be implemented in its entirety. Chapter Six of the CIPEV report, which is on sexual violence, did not indicate whether the sexual violence during the post election violence meets the criteria for ‘crimes against humanity’. However, it is hoped that the proposed tribunal will also handle sexual violence crimes, and that those who bear the greatest responsibility for sexual offences have been named alongside other instigators of gross human rights violations.
-The Ministry of Gender should work with other ministries and agencies as well as non-state actors to create national awareness on provisions of the Sexual Offences Act of 2006 both within Government structures and also at grass roots level.
Violence against women is not acceptable. We must refuse to live with it. It can be avoided and it must be avoided. It is a grave matter, which warrants immediate individual, national and international attention.
*Ann Njogu is the Executive Director of the Centre for Rights, Education and Awareness of Women (CREAW).
*Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org
1. CIPEV report page 345
2. Francis Kimemia, Permanent Secretary in charge of Provincial Administration and Internal Security, Office of the President, Exhibit 4A- CIPEV report.
3. CREAW- Women Paid the Price- Sexual and Gender based violence in the 2007 post election conflict in Kenya.- pg 14
4. Ibid pg 40
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