“A modest woman may be once violated, but her virtue is greatly strengthened as a result,” Madam Cunegonde articulated these words in the book Candide by Voltaire. Captured in a castle raid, Cunegonde declined to give sexual favours to her slave master, despite being perceived as “damaged goods” after enduring a rape ordeal by a Bulgarian soldier during the sack of the castle.
Two hundred and sixty years after the publication of Candide, 41 percent of women in Kenya between the age of 15 – 49 years have experienced intimate partner physical and or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014.
On November 22, 2019, a video surfaced on Twitter, depicting one Ibrahim Taraiya, a supervisor at Eastmatt Supermarket, Kitengela branch, assaulting Sarah Atieno, a teller at the outlet. The Directorate of Criminal Investigations arrested Ibrahim and preferred assault charges upon him. Online furore from the video contributed to the arrest, but despite the widespread condemnation of the violence captured in the video, some comments encouraged violence against women. An example includes the tweet by @JoramNyambura that reads, “Kitengela’s Eastmatt Supermarket supervisor is seen here disciplining a lady cashier who seemed a slow learner.” Such a comment forms part of expressions that promote violence against women. Language offers a doorway to the provocation of gender-based violence.
Three days after the Eastmatt incidence, on November 25, another video surfaced on Twitter depicting 30-year-old Justus Kamoja assaulting a female guard at the entrance of a mall in Komarock estate. The same pattern of response ensued and condemnation and calls of arrests filled the Twittersphere. The Directorate of Criminal Investigations, once again, swooped in and arrested the suspect.
A more worrying concern is on how many such incidents never come to the attention of the general public. Every year, the world commemorates the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November to the Human Rights Day on 10 December, by calling on the global community’s attention to the vice. Two hashtags #16Days and #OrangeTheWorld came to life to highlight violence against women.
But just how far do such hashtags take the message?
Between October 28, 2019 and November 19, the hashtags #16Days and #OrangeTheWorld generated 109,000 and 137,000 tweets respectively. This translates to an average of about 15,500 and 19,500 tweets daily – with Twitter having an average of 500 million tweets generated daily. The campaign does not reach enough eyes to create a huge awareness.
In all facets of life, women encounter vilifying descriptions and verbal attacks. At the 2019 Global Gender Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda, President Paul Kagame reiterated that “Being a man in a position of leadership, at any level, means never having to think about your gender. But being a woman leader means always having to think about how gender impacts your work”. The graph below shows views of YouTube videos (sample of 68) highlighting women issues plus the number of people supporting a topic and those who don’t.
YouTube videos featuring gender equality and feminism issues receive the least number of views and get a relatively low number of people in support of the topic. Hence, matters of equality for women get less attention from the general public, making it challenging to change opinions on equality.
Nevertheless, YouTube videos covering women in business receive a lot of views. The views on the videos translate into a high number of persons in support for women in business. Perhaps a disposition to admire the tenacity of women in commerce.
An outright matter of displeasure is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM,) which has the highest number of people against the act. Violence against women second. It might seem that the Kenyan public has less interest in “softer” issues such as equality but abhor gruesome acts such as FGM while women in politics and entertainment encounter moderate animosity.
The cycle of violence eventually produces deathss. Murder at Home, a Nation Newsplex project that explores the consequences of gender-related violence on communities throughout Kenya, notes that 148 people were killed between October 1, 2018 and November 15, 2019. They include 95 women, 37 men and 16 children. In these murders, most of the victims were stabbed, strangled or struck. In one in six murders, the victim was strangled. In more than half of the cases, blunt and sharp objects such as nail-studded club, hacksaw, machetes, knives, jembes and axes were used.
As the fight on violence against women intensifies online, more hashtags surface to further push for awareness Examples include the following:
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