Tag: Kenya miniskirt attack

Kenya miniskirt attacks: We need everyday activism, not a 16-day campaign

Women at Monday's rally chant slogans in support of the woman who was attacked and stripped. (Pic: AFP)
Protesters at the #MyDressMyChoice rally chant slogans in support of a woman who was attacked and stripped. (Pic: AFP)

As we mark the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, Kenyans are reeling from yet another assault on a young woman, which occurred in Nairobi on Sunday. The 16-year-old school girl was attacked by four men, one of them a police officer, who tried to strip her naked.

Welcome to Kenya, a country where some men with questionable logic want to strip women who are dressed in short skirts in order to made them ‘decent’. Yes, stripping for decency.

This incident follows the earlier attacks on three women (two in Nairobi and one in Mombasa) who were assaulted and stripped of their clothes for being ‘indecently’ dressed. The incidents shocked Kenyans and videos of the attacks were shared online, prompting mass outrage which resulted in the #MyDressMyChoice protest on November 17.

These recent acts of violence against women are a reminder of the bitter reality we have to live with. As a woman, I have to endure street harassment, cat calls, being groped, awkward stares, winks and worse. As a woman, I have to explain why I choose to wear a ring despite not being married. Or I have to explain why I am not yet married. I have to justify my actions or inactions. I have to hear stories of women who have been beaten up, burnt and maimed by their lovers, neighbours and strangers who picked on opponents who could not stand up for themselves.

Like the women of Kilimani, I have bought pepper spray and a Taser, because I need to protect myself from men. That is a reality.

I was one of the many protesters who marched in downtown Nairobi to vent my anger against the stripping and attacks on women. Last Monday, we women literally put our feet down, raised our fists in the air, and demanded our rights of freedom and protection. But the irony of it all unfolded as we slithered our way into the town.

As we surged forward in the protest, we were met by men in the area where one of the women was stripped. They immediately began to taunt us.

“Are you wearing any panties?”

“Why didn’t you come here naked so that we know that you are serious?”

“If you keep talking, we will strip you to teach you a lesson!”

They had no fear in the world, not even of the cameras recording their taunts and vulgarities. The shoved and booed us and no one stopped them.

The women in their numbers drowned out their abuses with more chanting and feet-stomping. The level of lawlessness was absurd. It was clear: stripping was one of the many things they would do to a woman if they decided she was indecently dressed.

As I retreated home after the protest I accepted, sadly, that there are hooligans and perverts in suits and on social media. I was scared that day. I am still scared, because I realise that the attackers do not need reason to decide their actions. They behave like the law, dishing out judgment and punishment as they please. They will strip and pat their ‘brothers’ on the back for a job well done.

This blatant impunity affirmed in me that this is not about what women chose to wear. There were pertinent concerns of violation of women and it is worse if some police officers are involved. Our authorities are not swift enough in bringing to book those responsible. There were no arrests after the first two stripping attacks. For the third attack, 100 people were arrested but it’s unclear what happened to them.

Who decides what is decent or not? After these recent events, I have to check the hemline of my dress or skirt before leaving my house. I have to check how revealing my shirt is. I have to consciously weigh whether my outfit would pass the decency scale. Because for as long as these hooligans and perverts roam the streets of Nairobi and other towns, deciding on who to punish for what they are wearing, I am not safe. Provided that these groups of jungle judges are walking around in their flowing robes of decency with some invisible tape measure to determine how short a skirt is, no woman is safe.

While it’s commendable that we have dedicated 16 days to raising awareness of violence against women, it’s not enough. We ought to have a mind-set of everyday activism because this is an everyday occurrence. We need to make this everyone’s business. The men who abuse women in public or in their homes or from behind their keyboards are all liable. We need to realise, men as well, that we are all safe only when we are ALL safe. If one person is in pain, violated or abused, it will flow back to the rest of us.

Eunice Kilonzo is a journalist in Kenya. 

Miniskirt attack: This is not a Kenyan issue, this is an African issue

Women take part in a protest along a main street in Nairobi on November 17 2014. They demanded justice for a woman who was attacked for being dressed 'indecently'. (Pic: Reuters)
Women take part in a protest along a main street in Nairobi on November 17 2014. They demanded justice for a woman who was attacked for being dressed ‘indecently’. (Pic: Reuters)

It is a funny thing, the African’s relationship with his Africanness. Like the Christian discusses ‘the flesh’ when falling into the temptation to commit sins, the African brings up the question of Africanness when defending his anti-social behaviour.

When a group of men in Kenya put it into their minds to undress and assault a woman in public because she was dressed “indecently”, some African men defended this move and shrouded their argument in the opaque veil of Africanness. On Facebook posts of this story, top-voted comments included pleas to African women to remain “decent”.

Although it may seem perfectly natural for me to choose anger in such a situation, I decided to skip that step and muse on the meaning of “decency” in the mind of the modern African.

To whom shall we credit such a notion, but the missionaries? To me, it seems the term is only ever used to demonise some part of the African population. Whether it is homosexuals, or women wearing miniskirts, the question of Africanness is only ever brought up when violations of human rights are committed by Africans. But where did such an idea begin?

It is easy to surmise my previous conclusion, with an examination of even the simplest look into African history. With the introduction of European missionaries to African society came the idea of “decency” – more so the idea that the scanty attire of traditional Africans was indecent.

For how else can this notion develop organically in the minds of people who live in one of the hottest climates in the world? Surely, it cannot. We cannot claim that an obsession with covering up the bodies of women – a very Victorian obsession – could have developed naturally in the minds of African people.

I say “African” and not “Kenyan” because this issue is not confined to one African country. Just last year Swaziland talked about enforcing anti-miniskirt laws that were penned during, gasp, colonial times. Even in my native Botswana, there was a time when young girls were warned against wearing revealing attire at the bus station. This is not a Kenyan issue, it is an African issue.

To take it further, this is not a dress issue, it is an identity issue. More specifically, this is a crisis of identity. There must exist some conflict in the mind of a man deeming a woman in a miniskirt indecent when only a century ago his ancestors deemed even less clothing perfectly acceptable. Particularly when events still exist in the contemporary setting where African women dress in said traditional attire without protest from the very men happy to police the dress of women in urban settings. The disjoint in logic can only be rationalised by a mind in conflict.

In condemning the miniskirt, the modern African joins in the tradition of condemning his ancestors – a tradition inspired by the European missionaries of the 18th century.

I say this because even those that condemned the behaviour of these men used words like “barbaric” and “primitive” to describe them – in other words, they used the language of colonialism. Even in the minds of those that deplored this behaviour, there swam images of some immoral ancestors that went about undressing women.

This too is a symptom of an identity crisis, of associating decency with Other, and then going further to associate the immoral acts committed in the name of correcting indecency with barbarism, or quite clearly pre-colonial Africanness.

Both assumptions are founded in missionary teachings, whether asserters know it or not. It is this idea that pre-colonial Africans truly were morally bankrupt. This is incorrect.

Even in the most patriarchal societies (if there is such a scale), I doubt that undressing a woman in public would happen without consequence. The dignity of a woman may have not belonged to her, but it belonged to somebody (likely, a father or husband) and doing whatever it took to violate it would not have gone unpunished. Our ancestors were not a group of speaking baboons: they too, had standards of conduct.

Ultimately, when situations like this arise, it is necessary that we examine our thinking and then act accordingly. We cannot allow people to use African culture as a scapegoat. We must be able to see if anything is to be deemed “barbaric” it is the idea that enforcing European missionary ideals in modern Africa is in some way “right.” We must examine our beliefs about decency and dignity and reconcile them with a switch in thinking: with an embracing of the realities that we inhabit. It should be a priority for us in this day and age to correct mentalities that defend any violations of basic human rights and use understanding of history to inspire the creating of environments that nurture and heal our social, religious and mental conflicts. And for this to be done, we should know that there are no [insert african nation] problems, but African problems.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-year-old mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites