How patriarchy underpins gender violence today

Monday March 18 2024

Human rights activists protest demanding an end to femicides in Nairobi, Kenya on January 27, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


On January 27, Kenyan women flooded city streets to protest rising cases of femicide. These were the largest protests ever held against gender-based violence in the country.

The killings that triggered the outrage were especially horrific. In one instance, a woman was raped, beaten and forced to swallow acid. Another young woman was beheaded in airbnb establishment. In January alone, 14 women were killed in the country. Between 2016 –2024, 500 women were killed. The figures, horrendous as they are, are thought to be higher.

Statistics on gender-based violence paint a very sick society. Almost half of women in the country experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. Then there are countless others who face daily sexual harassment in schools, public transportation, universities and workplaces.

Boda boda riders are notorious for harassing women drivers. In an incident that caused national shame, boda bodas descended on a hapless woman driver they accused of ramming one of them and physically and sexually assaulted her.

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A few years ago, some self-appointed moral police would beat and undress women they deemed indecently dressed, as if in a country in which billions are stolen every year, and in which so many sleep hungry, the most egregious crime is a woman’s short skirt.


To be sure, femicide and physical and sexual violence against women is not a uniquely Kenyan problem. In South Africa, rape has reached crisis proportions. In eastern Congo and other war-ravaged regions in Africa, rape is a weapon of war.

The problem of rape also transcends race, culture and religion. In the United States and, surprisingly, liberal Sweden, rape is endemic. And in the so-called traditional societies of Lesotho and Swaziland, rape is a serious problem. In pious India, rape had become so rampant that it even happened in buses. The government, unlike other regions, moved with ferocity to stem the problem.

The Kenyan protesters called for tough legislation against gender-based violence as well as quick police action in response to cases of sexual harassment. These measures will go a long way in curbing the impunity that exists in the country with regard to violence against women.

But, at the same time, we must seek to change deeply ingrained cultural attitudes. Even though we no longer live in the traditional society, residual traditional attitudes still stain our views of women. Therefore, we must explore ways of overcoming these cultural attitudes and making them a liability in society.

At the same time, we must rid our society of erroneous views such as there is a head of a family who lords it over the household and, instead, advocate a respectful partnership. Other erroneous beliefs consider domestic violence as not quite violence and rape within marriage as not quite rape.

Police stations also need to be sensitive to rape victims. Eradicating gender-based violence will, therefore, require uncompromising action at the levels of legislation, policing and culture.