Let's interrupt gender violence and narratives that support it
The world is midway through the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. The recent conviction of Moses Gatama Njoroge provides the clearest example why the annual awareness campaign is so important.
Milimani magistrate Esther Kimulu sentenced Moses Njoroge to prison for five years without the option of a fine on December 1. The case, while largely forgotten by the public, relates to that first date that went horribly wrong. Njoroge’s sexual advances against Esther Kikimbi (20) was rebuffed. Rejected, he proceeded to throw her from the Ambank building window twelve floors above the Nairobi city pavement. If she had not hit a balcony on the ninth floor, the case might have been manslaughter.
The case was largely missed by most media houses until it showed up in one of the most strangest of spaces, a media studio. On their “Lift off” breakfast show DJs Shaffie Weru, Mfalme and Neville Musya referred to the incident and asked HomeBoyz listeners to discuss whether women were “too available”. The critical backlash by CREAW, COVAW, AMWIK, Amnesty International and KOT was swift and decisive. Their employer announced gross misconduct and they would not condone gender-based violence in any form. As the Communications Authority of Kenya expressed their displeasure, East Africa Breweries announced they were pulling their advertising.
That 2021 studio chatter is no different from the conversations that still happen in many boy’s rooms, manels and male-dominated spaces. Rather than creating an environment of empathy and justice, victim shaming creates social consent for gender-based violence and rape. Furthermore, survivors are re-traumatised or “emotionally raped” a second time, but this time, publicly. GBV survivors often speak about the public stigma of being blamed as being worse than the utter sense of isolation during the first violation.
The Moses Njoroge case is one among thousands that have happened. Unlike Esther Kikimbi, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital student Ivy Wangechi (25) didn’t make it to court to testify in 2019. Her throat slit and her body cut severally by a machete, she remains one of the most horrendous scars on our national conscience. The demand for justice, prosecutions, and convictions in the case of Ivy, Sharon Otieno, Sheila Lumumba, and many others remain urgent.
Rather than see these as isolated cases, we must also confront the larger social drivers before us. One in four girls are still unlawfully having their clitoris cut. One in three women are still experiencing being sexual intimidation or assault. This figure increases three-fold for lesbian or queer women like Sheila Lumumba, who was murdered this year. Gender based violence costs Kenya Sh 29 billion annually in health and labour productivity.
So, this year, I want you to take a couple of actions and make a difference. You can donate what you can to women’s rights organisations like Usikimye, Wangu Kanja Foundation, FIDA-Kenya, CREAW, AMWIK, and CRADLE. Not just money, but reach out and volunteer, host a conversation within your family or community, follow their social media handles and attend the many events being organised. Join this column in openly advocating for increased funding to specialised law enforcement agencies like POLICARE. You can also watch and discuss with your families and communities one of several movies like The Letter (Kenya, 2019), A Girl from Mogadishu (Somalia, 2019), Another War (Liberia,2004), or We Are Dying Here (South Africa, 2021).
Let’s not listen passively as others victim blame. Let’s point out that jokes and laughter liscence and give consent to violence. They distract our attention from where it needs to focus, holding the perpetrator accountable.
Reading Moses Njoroge’s personal defense of his alcohol addiction and mental depression in court, convictions alone will not stop the violence. We also need to actively interrupt online and in person, all narratives that leave anyone in our lives confident that violence is an option.
Thank you, Esther Kikimbi, for seeing this through to the end. Let’s all demand an end to gender based violence. Interrupt it, stop it, and report it.