Why thousands of women marched in the streets of Kenya this weekend


As it happens7:39 a.m.Why thousands of women marched in the streets of Kenya this weekend

Audrey Mugeni says there were times when she felt like she was the only one worried that women were being murdered at an alarming rate in Kenya.

But she says Saturday’s massive nationwide protests against femicide, the killing of women and girls, fueled a new sense of community, solidarity and hope.

“It was very forceful. It was very affirming,” said Mugeni, an advocate for women’s and girls’ rights. As it happens host Nil Köksal.

“Looking around and realizing I wasn’t the only person who thought this was an issue that needed to be talked about, I was moved and I could feel the emotions… flowing through all of our veins.”

WATCH | Demonstration in Nairobi:

Thousands demonstrate against femicide in Kenya

Protesters march through the streets of Nairobi on Saturday January 27 to demand an end to femicide in Kenya. The protest was part of a nationwide protest against gender-based violence in the country, where local media reported the killing of 14 women this month alone.

Mugeni is the co-founder of Femicide Count Kenya, an advocacy organization that tracks homicides against women in the country.

United Nations defines femicide as “intentional killing” of women and girls “with gender motivation” which “may be driven by stereotypical gender roles, discrimination against women and girls, unequal power relations between women and men or harmful social norms.”

Femicide Count recorded 152 murders in 2023, the highest figure since the group began tracking statistics in 2018. As they rely largely on media and public reports, the true number could be higher.

Already in 2024, Kenyan media reported the murder of at least 14 women, according to Patricia Andago, a data journalist at media and research firm Odipo Dev, who also participated in the march.

Three young women, in the foreground facing a larger crowd of protesters, wave a rainbow flag above their heads and shout.  One wears a T-shirt with the text “END FEMICIDE”.  Another raises her fist in the air.
Thousands of people marched through towns and villages across Kenya on Saturday in protests over the recent killings of more than a dozen women in January 2023 alone. (Brian Inganga/Associated Press)

This increase in killings prompted thousands of people to demonstrate on Saturday in towns and villages across Kenya.

“This is a problem that has been going on for so long and yet no one is talking about it,” Mugeni said. “Now we’re angry. Now we all come together.”

In the national capital, Nairobi, protesters wore T-shirts printed with the names of women killed this month. The protesters – most of them women – chanted “Stop killing us!” » because they paralyzed traffic.

“We are fed up with government institutions that do not work to prevent and, if necessary, quickly punish feminicides,” march organizer Melvin Obollah said during the demonstration.

2 high-profile murders this month

Two recent high-profile murders have dominated media coverage in Kenya this year.

On January 14, the dismembered and decapitated body of Rita Waeni, a 20-year-old university student, was found in a trash bag in a rental apartment in Nairobi. A week later, a head was found near a dam, along with Waeni’s phone and other missing items. Two Nigerian men have been arrested in connection with his death.

Before that, on January 3, the body of Starlet Wahu, 26 years old was found in an Airbnb apartment with multiple stab wounds after going there with a man she met online.

Police are holding the man in custody, and Mugeni says several Kenyan women have since come forward to say they previously reported the same suspect for assault, to no avail.

Top shot of large crowd of demonstrators, many of them women.
Audrey Mugeni says the energy was palpable at Saturday’s march in Nairobi. (Monicah Mwangi/Reuters)

It’s part of a broader trend of authorities not taking women seriously, she said. Kenya has good laws against gender-based violence, she says, but they are not properly enforced.

“We have signed international and regional treaties. We have also written very beautiful and good laws,” she said of her country’s rules against gender-based violence. “But when it comes to training, it’s not very good.”

Esther Passaris, Kenya’s parliamentary representative for women, tried to address protesters in Nairobi over the weekend, but was accused of remaining silent during the latest wave of killings. The protesters shouted: “Where have you been? and “Go home!”

Passaris did not respond to a request for comment from the SRC.

Mugeni also took issue with local media coverage of the recent killings, noting that several local media outlets focused on reports that Wahu was wearing a short, red dress the night she was killed.

“They were definitely victimizing her, (saying) it was her fault that this happened to her,” Mugeni said.

A man kneels in the street, raises both his fists in the air and shouts.  Behind him, the crowd held signs reading: “Say their names” and “#EndFemicideKE” as well as a list of women's names.
Some men also participated in the protests. (Brian Inganga/Associated Press)

She paid tribute to the men who marched alongside them on Saturday.

“We have very good allies among men. But there are still others who still say: ‘You know what? You women need to shut up. You are not going to eat our money and think that we Let’s not eat our money.” to kill you,’” she said.

“There are still men who talk like this. Even after all these deaths, they still blame women for these deaths.”

According to Amnesty Internationalmore than 500 women were killed in Kenya between 2016 and 2023. The majority, according to the human rights organization, were women under the age of 35, killed by intimate partners or people they knew.

“We have to get to a point where we all understand that it’s not just a women’s issue. It’s a society issue,” Mugeni said. “We are literally killing a generation of women.”

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