Suffering in Silence Has to Stop

Florence Machio

The lack of security for women at the time of political unrest in Kenya meant that many women could not access medical help and saw no hope in reporting crimes against them.

"Before I could sit up,"
says Miryam, a 54-year-old widow, "About ten men stormed in and started
ransacking the house. They ordered me not to make any noise.One of them,
who was carrying a blunt object, hit me on the right leg."

One man grabbed Miryam by
the neck, pushed her hard on the floor and raped her.
"I could not imagine that at my age somebody could do that to me.
Up to three men raped me that morning," she sighs with resignation.

She went to a nearby dispensary
to have her swollen leg treated but never mentioned the sexual assault.
Neither did she report to the police as she did not deem it necessary.
The thought of reliving her trauma, as well as the stigma that would
follow were sufficient to buy her silence

This is an excerpt from the book "In the Shadow of Death…My Trauma, My Experience," documenting the
voices of Kenyan women discussing the post-election violence that took place
last year. At around this time President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila, the two principals, signed the peace accord that led to the formation
of the grand coalition. 

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After the peace accord, a commissioned
inquiry into the post-election violence collected evidence
and issued a report to the government. One entire chapter of this
report was dedicated to sexual violence. One year later, politicians are still arguing over whether to form local tribunal to
try the perpetrators of violence or to go to the Hague. As this goes
on, many women are yet to get the justice that they deserve. 

Women came up to testify at the commission to make sure that the issue of sexual violence
does not occur again or, at very least, laws are put in place to make sure that perpetrators
are brought to justice. 

In the middle of the crisis,
a group of 40 civil society organizations came together and formed the Interagency Gender-Based Violence sub-cluster, co-chaired by the UNFPA
and the National Commission on Gender and Development. This group informed
the commission and offered counseling services to the women
who were ready to testify. Most of them are featured in this book. Most importantly, they are not just the horror stories but a look into the
social justice system of this country, where sexual violence was used
to pit one group against the other and the government didn’t do
much in response.

Millicent Obaso of Care International, who worked with several women who testified at the commission, told
of terrible tales of women being raped in front of their spouses and
children and also discussed the fact that those women were often turned away at police stations.
Some were asked to report only one of the offenses against them. A woman whose house was burned
down and who was also raped was reported as saying:

They asked
me to decide which case I wanted to report…whether it was the rape
or the arson..they even advised me that the arson was better because
I would get compensation and the rape which was by a police officer
was not going anywhere.

These are some of the situations
that women found themselves in what the report says clearly were
as a result of the inequalities in Kenya. The lack of security at the
time of the violence meant that many women could not access medical
help and others, like Miryam, saw no reason to report crimes against them because "perpetrators
would not be brought to book."

A total of 31 women testified
at the commission in various parts of the country. In its report, the
commission notes that the culture of impunity allowed violence, including sexual violence, to reign
in the country, with perpetrators being both state
agents and gangs of young men knowing that they would
get away with murder or violence. 

Legal issues arising from these
violations present a very gloomy picture at the status of women in Kenya.
Kenya has ratified a number of international legal instruments yet it
has not incorporated them into its local statues because of lack of
political will at the government and parliament level. 

As Kenyan women count a year
since all this happened, we have yet to see what is going
to be done to give them justice. Parliament has already had a debate
on whether to form a local tribunal thrown out and the government is
weighing its options on whether to go to the Hague for the perpetrators. 

Since the violence came about
because of political reasons, the two principals have already agreed
on power sharing but the political class has yet to agree on what would
be the best way to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice
and women can at least have some closure. 

As International Women’s Day approaches, it is prudent to go back and see what hope there is for
these women and the status of women in general in Kenya and in Africa
as a whole. Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Liberia and the Democratic Republic
of Congo have had their share of sexual violence being used as a weapon
of war and Kenya is now facing the dilemma of what to do with the perpetrators. 

The activist and woman in me
will say castrate them, while the Christian in me would say forgive
them. On second thought, the Christian in me would still insist that
people need to take responsibility for their actions otherwise the world
will remain the same. Yet another side of me says that we need to find
justice for these women by domesticating the international instruments
so that the silence stops — not just for them but for any woman who will
have the unfortunate incident of being sexually violated. 

As per the report, a
lot of the sexual violations indicated clearly where women are placed
in the society and Kenya’s justice system as a whole. It would be
nice to wipe the slate clean, but if we forget to punish these perpetrators
we might as well forget about the women as a whole. We refuse to
forget because as the theme of this year’s women’s day says, "Women
and men together in the fight against sexual violence," and that’s the
only way we can fight. 

Maybe it’s a good thing that
the commissioners were all men — because they were able to give
recommendations that hopefully will last. They had to sit and listen
to all the horrific stories that women know so well by virtue of listening
to their friends, relatives or by going through it themselves. 

Let there be no stone left
unturned in bringing justice through parliament, police, political class
and also the society at large…that’s
the only way the silence will stop.

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