Kenya's stripping videos cause outrage

  • Published
Women rally in protest on 17 November in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, about the stripping of a woman by a mob .Image source, AFP

"Oh God please help me, please stop," the woman begs in Swahili. The men ignore her and push her around, shove her on to the bus seat, and pull up her skirt.

This is not a movie; it is a video recorded on a mobile phone that has emerged this week in Kenya and shocked the country, sparking anger and a huge debate on social media.

The one-minute long video shows a lone woman in a knee-length yellow skirt, accosted by three men in an empty public bus being undressed and sexually abused.

It is not the only video to have come out this week of women being stripped and abused by gangs of men.

At least two others have been doing the rounds on social media, all showing men violently abusing women.

Gangster territory

The new videos began circulating just a week after hundreds of Kenyans demonstrated in the capital, Nairobi, for the "my dress, my choice" protest sparked by the stripping of an unidentified woman for allegedly dressing indecently in Kayole.

The area, one of Nairobi's sprawling suburbs, has a long history of gang crime, and at one time was the base of the dreaded Mungiki sect, which was notorious for the gruesome beheading of people.

Mungiki members have been known to control bus routes, where they tax all public service vehicles operating there. Banned in 2002, the underground sect's intimidation tactics are feared, though the group's espousal of traditional African values has traction with some young men.

There had been several cases of undressing and flogging "indecently dressed women" by the Mungiki in various cities in Kenya over the last few years.

Police say they have arrested more than 100 people in relation to the Kayole estate case.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Women protested in Nairobi last week and the hashtag MyDressMyChoice began trending on Twitter

In a separate case, a police officer has been charged with assault for trying to undress a schoolgirl over the weekend. He denies the allegations.

As the world begins 16 days of global activism to end gender-based violence, nowhere is the debate on women's rights and freedoms more relevant at the moment in East Africa than in Kenya.

In fact two women have been featured today in one of the country's main local dailies, describing how they were attacked and stripped.

One, a bus station egg seller, says an argument with a ticket tout who refused to pay for boiled eggs escalated and a mob ended up stripping her.

'Men are beasts'

In some of these cases, there were people quietly recording the events. One of the videos shows men watching and doing absolutely nothing.

Angry women on social media have been asking why such men would stand by and watch "their sisters, daughters and mothers, being stripped and abused".

Statements like "men are beasts" and "filthy, senseless men" have been common during this debate.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has also added his voice, tweeting: "Not taking any action was the height of irresponsibility on the part of the spectators as criminals were violating the rights of our women."

Activists say the videos have exposed a problem that sometimes slips under the radar and show that gender-based violence is real in Kenya - across the country.

Some cases never get reported because of the fear and shame surrounding issues such as rape.

And as last week's rival march by men telling women to "dress up" shows, it will take some time for the conservative attitude of some men to change - and for women to feel safe on Kenya's streets.

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