When she is not selling tomatoes and kale around her hometown of Kakuma, Kenya, Jane Indeche is working as a housekeeper cleaning and cooking for additional income to take home for her five-month old baby girl.
The 5,000 extra Kenyan Shillings, about $50 U.S Dollars, were not enough to compensate the pain Indeche would feel after one of her male employers groped and verbally harassed her for over two years.
“When I washed clothes, cooked or cleaned, he would come and touch me,” Indeche said. “He would offer me extra money or an apartment so I could stay close to their house.”
It wasn’t until last October that she decided to quit after two years and bring an end to the sexual harassment. Indeche, 33, said that she had experienced similar indignities as a child and she was not going to let it continue as an adult.
Once she heard through a friend that the Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o had shared her survivor story of sexual harassment from former Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, Indeche said she felt encouraged and confident to speak out as well.
Indeche and other Kenyan women who have suffered from sexual harassment and violence, now have a new platform to tell their stories. As the #metoo movement spreads, women’s rights activists said they have noticed the beginnings of change in this traditionally patriarchal East African country where a 2014 government survey showed that almost half of Kenyan women think that beatings from their spouses can be justified for some small offenses, such as burning food, arguing, going out with the husband’s permission, neglecting the children or refusing to have sex. The Kenya National Bureau of statistics determined from surveys that over 14,000 women—42 percent of all adult women held these beliefs. Those were the latest numbers available
USAID from the American People, a division of the State Department asserts that harassment and discrimination impede the country’s development. The agency declared on its website that: “Traditional ideas about the roles of girls and women restrict their contributions to Kenya.”
25-year-old Lumadi Velma is determined to convince other Kenyan women to raise their voices in the #metoo movement.
Velma co-founded a non-profit organization in 2015 called Feminist Kenya with a mission to inform Kenyan women and men about harassment and abuse. On a typical day Feminist Kenya uses social media to post hotline numbers, articles, and information on organizations that aim to raise awareness of sexual harassment or that provide shelter and mental health resources.
“People here were afraid to talk about what happened to them, but after the #metoo movement, they don’t fear being mocked by speaking out,” said Velma. “Now they just need to be aware of their rights and get help.”
Zachariah Mutamani is one Kenyan male who decided to go against the norm and defend women rights by raising awareness for gender violence. After his girlfriend was raped and later killed, he decided to form an organization to bring an end to the crime that made him lose a loved one. Mutamani said that though he is seen as a threat to other men because he is fighting for the equality for women, he remains committed to supporting women and encouraging them to speak out.
“Where I come from, I saw a lot of girls being affected,” said Mutamani. “There was no one to try and protect them.”
Mutamani is the head of Action Kenya Initiative, a non governmental organization that works to end physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women and girls through awareness, mentorship, and economic empowerment. They provide weekly counseling and mentoring services to women like Indeche who are victims of harassment. For the past four years, Action Kenya Initiative has placed education as a priority. The NGO holds lessons on sexual reproduction and the menstrual cycle because organizers believe it is important for young girls to understand how their body works. They also provide mentorship for disabled children because they too are treated unfairly, says Mutamani.
Over the next few months, the organization aims to develop a smartphone social app that will help women report and seek help in case of an emergency. Set to launch over the next couple of months, this application will incorporate local phone numbers of hospitals, victim services, or local chiefs, who may be contacted if someone is attacked. For women in rural areas without a smartphone, the NGO is attempting to set up an SMS messaging system.
Velma said she hopes the #metoo movement will be another factor in ending gender inequality in her country. Over the past few years, a jump in the number of women legislators has helped lead to the passage of laws that protect womens’ rights. But there is still work to be done. Education is a key, Velma said, and training is needed in institutions like schools and hospitals, where sexual harassment is commonplace. She hopes to continue to promote and raise awareness so the government can enforce legislation and provide more equal treatment of women.
Some positive developments have occurred. USAID points out that in 2010 the Kenyan government passed a new constitution that “marks a new beginning for women’s rights in Kenya; seeking to remedy the traditional exclusion of women and promote their full involvement in every aspect of growth and development.”
The ultimate goal of survivors of harassment and abuse is to lower the numbers of incidents. In its 2014 survey, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics found that among the 10,000 Kenyan women and men who participated, 38 percent of ever-married women age 15-49 have experienced physical violence committed by their husband/partner, while 23 percent experienced violence in the 12 months prior to the survey. Nine percent of ever-married men age 15-49 have experienced physical violence committed by their wife/partner, while five percent experienced violence in the 12 months prior to the survey. Overall, 39 percent of ever-married women and nine percent of men age 15- 49 reported having experienced spousal physical or sexual violence.
These numbers aren’t much different from the United States. According to the latest survey released in 2011, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a total of 14,155 interviews (7,758 women and 6,397 men) and concluded that:
- An estimated 19.3 percent of women and 1.7 percent of men have been raped during their life times.
- 9 percent of women and 23.4 percent of men had experienced other forms of sexual violence during their life times, including sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and unwanted sexual experiences that don’t involve contact.
Women have had to stay silent, Velma said, when they are sexually assaulted or harassed. They would rather not contact the police because they fear they will be mocked and labeled as prostitutes, she adds.
But Velma and other Kenyan activists said the #metoo. movement has caused women to speak up more and that men have listened and learned what they can do protect women. They vow to make things better for Kenyan women and girls.
“Kenya will be in the forefront,” said Mutamani.