From verbal and physical attacks on girls and women in my life, it is clear to me that the stripping of women by some male scoundrels as recently witnessed in Nairobi, Bungoma and Mombasa had nothing to do with the dressing of those women.
These attacks are outward projections of a society drenched in misogyny, sexism and lawlessness. The attacks confirm that there exist pig-headed natives clinging to Stone Age ideas of masculinity and conceptualisation of women that make nonsense of Kenya’s post-modernist posture and dreams.
An unsustainably large proportion of Kenyan men are marinated with the lie that they own women’s bodies. They disrespect women and the laws that protect them. It takes simple listening to conversations of male relatives or colleagues to realise this.
These men arrogate themselves fake licence to women’s bodies. They even believe they can prescribe what girls and women they know nothing about should wear. I am a witness to this psychosis:
Once, at an upmarket Nairobi restaurant for lunch with my then pre-teen daughters, three older men who spoke my first language started talking about my daughters in most disrespectful terms. When I turned to confront them, they stared blankly and left without ordering lunch.
Now my daughters are in their early and mid-teens. Grown men on their way to work have catcalled at them almost every time we have gone out for a jog or walk.
A few years back, my cousin was molested at a bus stop in the city as she waited to board a matatu back to college. She had just come from a job interview with a bank. Two men out of the crowd pinned her to a wall as a third one reached under her bra and fondled her breasts.
More recently, a man brazenly groped my friend’s buttocks as she walked towards Yaya Centre on her way home from work. Police officers who witnessed the abuse laughed about it before driving off.
Many more of my female friends have been insulted, force-kissed and forcefully hugged by strangers. Not that it would have been any acceptable had they known their attackers. In all instances, wananchi who witnessed didn’t intervene.
All these abuses against girls and women are connected and they have nothing to do with the manner of dressing. Nor had they anything to do with place and time. They are sustained by law enforcement failure in Kenya.
There appears to be an epidemic of chauvinists in Kenya. They drive or tout matatus. Some dash by on boda bodas as others idle their time away at bus stops, malls and kiosks. Others haunt entertainment places. Many of them mimic civility as they walk or drive by residential areas.
Sexists and misogynists are as likely to be highflying professionals as they could be unemployed youth, schoolboys and illiterates. They are a colossus that straddles all faiths, classes, races, ethnicities, generations and occupations.
An even greater heartbreak is that institutions of public service delivery, including government technocracy, the National Police Service, Legislature and the Judiciary are habitats to some of the most decorated misogynists.
All this explains why sex offenders in Kenya are more likely to go scot-free than face justice. Fortunately, those Kenyans that believe in the non-negotiable equality of men and women; girls and boys in rights, worth and dignity are refusing to be cowed.
The #MyDressMyChoice street and media protests are a welcome first step in the right direction to deactivate sexism and misogyny in Kenya. This serious national task cannot be left to the police and politicians.
Organisers and protestors of the #MyDressMyChoice campaign must view this week’s activism as a first in many actions needed to address a systemic problem rooted in patriarchy – the worst, most lethal and persistent of all the ancestors of chauvinists.
The voices of those Kenyan women and men that stand for human rights, gender justice and the rule of law must not go silent. Miscreants like those filmed stripping women are doomed cowards. When challenged, even with simple questioning, they scamper for their temporary cover in anonymity.
The solidarity shown between activists and the media in recent weeks in defence of personal freedoms and gender justice need to be fostered and sustained into a strong movement against all forms of gender-based prejudices and crimes in Kenya.
It takes an unwavering stance by ordinary Kenyans, women and men, individually and in their organisations like the brave Kilimani Mums to start rolling back impunity and transform our country.
Only when we deactivate all forms of misogyny, sexism and lawlessness can we as citizens begin to experience true safety, security and progress.