50.50: News

Kenyan women march on police HQ after sex attack video

A female driver was stripped and sexually assaulted by a mob of men. Now Kenyan women are calling out the gender-based violence they regularly face

Rael Ombuor.jpg
Rael Ombuor
8 March 2022, 5.10pm
Sexual violence is an ongoing problem for Kenyan women, with these protesters taking to the streets in 2014
REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Hundreds of women in Nairobi marked International Women’s Day on Tuesday by marching to the national police headquarters to demand justice over sexual assault in public spaces.

They are calling for the regulation of the boda boda (commuter motorbikes) sector after video emerged showing a woman being sexually assaulted by boda boda drivers on a busy Nairobi road on Friday.

A mob surrounded the victim’s car following a road accident. They ripped her clothes and groped her as she shouted for help. The video, which sparked outrage on social media yesterday, ends with a police officer wading through the crowd to the woman’s rescue.

At the march this morning, women carried placards with messages like “usinishike”, which is Swahili for “don’t touch me”.

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One of those who took to the streets was Diana, who has asked to be identified only by her first name.

One evening four years ago, she left her house to visit a friend in a Nairobi neighbourhood. She took a bus and got off just metres from her friend’s flat, where about a dozen men were sitting “doing nothing”, she said.

One man at the bus stop shouted that her dress was too short. Within seconds, the rest of the men had joined in, shouting “remove her clothes”. Diana then started running, which she said saved her from sexual assault.

“It goes fast like that,” she told openDemocracy. “They view us as sexual objects. I can see how quickly an accident scene where a woman is involved could turn into a sexual assault situation.”

We are not only looking at boda boda guys who do not have respect for women, but men in general who do not respect women

There were reports of overnight mass arrests and confiscation of commuter motorbikes in Nairobi on Tuesday, but Diana sees the issue as far wider than any particular group of men.

“Those were not just boda boda riders,” she said. “Those were men – representative of many who have complete disrespect for women.”

Prominent voices and international rights organisations voiced their fury about Friday’s attack in International Women’s Day messages. UN Women Kenya called the incident a “horrific reality check”, Amnesty Kenya said it was “worrying and sickening” and called for the “firm and speedy apprehension of perpetrators”, while the country’s chief justice, Martha Koome, called the attack “heinous” and “cruel” in a statement. Koome said she hoped that the perpetrators would be “apprehended and processed through the criminal justice system”.

The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, said he had ordered a crackdown on boda bodas, starting in Nairobi and continuing across the country, and the police service said that it had arrested 16 suspects and impounded five motorbikes in relation to the assault.

But local organisers don’t see this as an isolated incident. Ashura Mciteka, founder of the local Coalition of Grassroots Women Initiative in Nairobi’s Dandora suburb, said she was not surprised by the video footage.

Mciteka’s organisation mainly deals with cases of sexual and gender-based violence in a highly populated district in the east of the city. “That video was taken by a man,” she said. “A woman would have not taken such a video when that was happening. We are not only looking at boda boda guys who do not have respect for women, but men in general who do not respect women.”

At the time of writing, a petition on change.org urging tougher regulation of boda bodas in Kenya has garnered more than 180,000 signatures. One of the signatories wrote: “I don’t need to feel unsafe as a woman.”

But at least one boda boda rider is warning against scapegoating an entire industry of low-income transport providers.

Speaking to openDemocracy from his house in Nairobi, Timothy Ndeke, 55, condemned the incident but added: “What happened was bad behaviour by a few. All of us will now pay for it.”

Friday’s sexual assault happened in a street named after Wangari Maathai. “A road named to honour Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, a fighter not just for the earth but for our rights,” said Diana. “The assault is a sign that this struggle is far from over.”

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