Femicide a ‘national crisis’ in Kenya

Human rights organizations are urging the Kenyan government to promptly investigate and prosecute instances of femicide following the brutal murders of two women. Audrey Mugeni, co-founder of Femicide Count Kenya, a non-governmental organization that documents the annual number of women killed in the country, stated that the situation is a national crisis, emphasizing the insufficient efforts to protect women. In the previous year, Femicide Count Kenya documented 152 killings, marking the highest number in the past five years. The actual figures are believed to be much higher than reported, according to the organization, which only records reported cases.

Since the beginning of the current year, at least four femicide cases have occurred, with two gaining public attention. Among them was the murder of 26-year-old Starlet Wahu on January 4th, who was stabbed by a man allegedly associated with a criminal ring engaging in violent extortion and rape of women targeted through dating sites. A suspect is in police custody, and investigations are ongoing.

Shortly after Wahu’s discovery, another woman was drugged and dismembered by a man she had arranged to meet in a rented flat. Her body parts were disposed of in plastic bags. A 2022 national survey revealed that more than one in three women in Kenya reported experiencing physical violence in their lifetime. Despite strong laws and policies against gender-based violence, rights groups argue that implementation is lacking.

Femicide Count Kenya, established in 2019, has documented incidents of women being killed through various means, including stabbing, beating, mutilation, strangling, and being set on fire. Most victims fall within the 21 to 30 age range. Recent incidents have led to widespread social media outrage, with hashtags such as #StopKillingWomen and #EndFemicideKe trending. However, victim blaming, debates on the safety of short-term rentals, and suggestions that women should take more safety precautions have also emerged, which women’s groups argue normalize femicide.

Feminists in Kenya, a women’s movement, emphasized the dangerous nature of notions suggesting women deserve harm for not ensuring their safety. They argue that the core issue lies in men perpetrating violence, not women failing to keep safe. Femicide Count Kenya criticized government inaction, calling for enforcement and accountability, while other women’s rights organizations, such as the Centre for Rights, Education and Awareness, joined the call for holding femicide perpetrators accountable. Feminist movements in the country plan protests to demand an end to these killings later this month. Mugeni stressed the importance of addressing the issue openly and regularly to repair societal shortcomings.

In a statement released on [X], Femicide Count Kenya condemned the government’s perceived inaction, asserting that Kenya is a party to international conventions against gender-based violence. They highlighted the hollowness of promises to protect women’s lives when femicide continues to be rampant. Urgently calling for enforcement and accountability, the organization emphasized that the government cannot remain complicit in the face of this distressing pattern of violence.

The Center for Rights, Education and Awareness, a women’s rights NGO, joined the chorus of demands for the government to hold femicide perpetrators accountable, expressing deep disturbance and appall at the disturbing pattern of violence. Feminist movements in the country are mobilizing for protests scheduled later this month, seeking an end to the killings that have become disturbingly frequent.

Audrey Mugeni reiterated the need to address the issue more prominently, emphasizing that while these incidents occur regularly, they often go unreported. Calling for a collective effort to speak up about the crisis, Mugeni highlighted the importance of acknowledging and confronting the broken aspects of society contributing to femicide.

As the calls for action intensify, the debate surrounding femicide in Kenya extends beyond the immediate criminal investigations. It delves into societal attitudes, victim blaming, and the need for a comprehensive approach to ensure women’s safety. The hashtags #StopKillingWomen and #EndFemicideKe are not just symbols of outrage but are rallying cries for a systemic change in addressing gender-based violence and femicide in Kenya.

The current wave of femicides has brought to the forefront the urgent need for tangible actions to implement existing laws and policies effectively. Women’s safety should not be contingent upon individual precautions alone; rather, it requires a collective societal effort to challenge and change deep-rooted norms that perpetuate violence against women. The upcoming protests and advocacy efforts signal a growing determination among women’s rights activists to push for lasting change and to hold both society and the government accountable in the fight against femicide in Kenya.

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