#MyDressMyChoice: Gender and Women’s Rights in Kenya

Last Monday, a young woman walking past a busy bus stop in central Nairobi was catcalled, attacked and stripped by a mob of men. Her crime? Allegedly dressing like a “Jezebel” and “tempting” her attackers. For this, she was subjected to public assault and humiliation. 

After a passerby videotaped the events and shared them online, the disturbing video became viral across Kenya. Soon after, similar videos of an attack of a woman in Mombasa emerged online. 

Following the social media debate over the recent spat of incidents, the Kilimani Mums organized a “miniskirt protest” in central Nairobi to defend women’s right to choose their attire. Using the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice, Kenyan women and their male allies marched from Uhuru Park to the bus terminal on Accra Road, where the attack allegedly took place. 

Deputy President Ruto has called the incident “barbaric.” Inspector General Kimaiyo has asked to the victim to come forward, so that the Police can commence an investigation into the incident.

Yet, after all the lofty rhetoric has subsided, will much have changed? It must because Kenyan women have had enough.

Despite flowery statistics showcasing female participation in government, why is Kenya a country in which the mayor of the capital city can get away with slapping the Nairobi Women’s Representative? 

A country where police officers let young men cut the grass outside of the police station instead of receiving a harsher punishment for gang-raping a 16-year-old girl and leaving her for dead?

A place where a matatu ride for a teenage girl coming home from school can mean suffering the feeling of someone else’s sweaty hands creeping up your thighs?

Where policeman demand bribes to investigate rapes or outright refuse to record them?

According to a 2013 report, 1 in 5 Kenyan women is a victim of sexual violence. So when is enough and enough? Are today’s marches the boiling point for Kenyan women - mostly importantly for Kenyan lawmakers and law enforcement? 

As Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee once said, “It’s time for women to stop being politely angry.”

Akinyi OchiengComment