Shocked by gruesome murders of women, activists in Africa demand change


A wave of horrendous murders of women in several African countries in recent weeks has sparked outrage, sparked a wave of protests and precipitated calls for governments to take decisive action against gender-based violence.

Kenyans were shocked when 31 women were killed in January after being beaten, strangled or decapitated, activists and police said. In Somalia, a pregnant woman died this month after her husband allegedly set her on fire. In the West African nation of Cameroon, a powerful businessman was arrested in January on accusations, which he has denied, of brutalizing dozens of women.

The rise in killings is part of a broader pattern that worsened during difficult economic times and pandemic lockdowns, human rights activists say. An estimated 20,000 gender-based murders of women will be recorded in Africa in 2022, the highest rate in the world, according to the UN. Experts believe the real numbers are probably higher.

“The problem is the normalization of gender violence and the rhetoric that, yes, women are disposable,” said Njeri wa Migwi, co-founder of Usikimye (Swahili for “Don’t be silent”), a Kenyan nonprofit organization. profit that works with victims of gender violence.

Feminist scholar Diana Russell popularized the term feminicide (the murder of women or girls because of their gender) to create a category to distinguish it from other homicides. According to a United Nations report, murders are usually committed by male partners or close family members and are preceded by physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Critics say many African leaders, as well as police, ignore or downplay the problem, or even blame the victims.

One recent afternoon, Migwi, co-founder of a nonprofit, was leading a training session for girls and women when she was suddenly called to a nearby house in Kayole, a low-income, high-crime neighborhood east of Nairobi.

Inside the dimly lit house, Jacinta Ayuma, a day laborer and mother of two, lay lifeless with bloody bruises visible on her face, neck and left arm. Police said she was murdered by her partner. She fled and has not yet been arrested. An autopsy showed she died from blunt force trauma that caused multiple organ injuries.

Cries of anguish echoed in the air as several officers carried the body to a police van using a thin quilt. Three neighbors reported hearing someone screaming for help throughout the night, until around 6 a.m., but said they did not intervene or call the police because the sounds of banging and distress were common and they considered it a private matter.

Migwi, back in his office nearby, said he had seen too many similar cases. “I’m in mourning,” she said, her head in her hands. “There’s a helplessness that comes with all of this.”

To coincide with Valentine’s Day, women’s rights activists in Kenya organized a vigil they called “Dark Valentine” in the capital to commemorate the murdered women. At least 500 women have been victims of feminicide in Kenya between 2016 and 2023, according to a recent report by Africa Data Hub, a group of data organizations that work with journalists in several African countries and that analyzed cases reported in the media in Kenya. Kenya.

About 300 people dressed in black T-shirts waved red roses, lit red candles and observed a minute of silence.

“Why should we keep reminding people that women need to be alive?” said Zaha Indimuli, co-organizer of the event.

Among the women whose names were read at the vigil was Grace Wangari Thuiya, a 24-year-old beautician who was murdered in Nairobi in January.

Two days before her death, Thuiya visited her mother in Murang’a county, about 35 kilometers northeast of Nairobi. During the visit, her mother, Susan Wairimu Thuiya, said they had talked about a 20-year-old university student who had been dismembered just days before and what seemed like an epidemic of violence against women.

Thuiya warned her daughter, whom she described as ambitious and bubbly, to be careful when choosing dates.

“Fear gripped my heart that day,” Thuiya said of her last encounter.

Two days later, the police called Ms Thuiya to inform her that her daughter had died after her boyfriend repeatedly attacked and stabbed her. Thuiya said her daughter had never revealed that she was dating anyone. Police said they arrested a man at the apartment where Grace Thuiya was killed.

“This is all a bad dream that I want to wake up from,” Thuiya said.

The murder of Mrs. Thuiya, among others, sparked large-scale protests across Kenya in late January. In recent years, anti-femicide protests had broken out in Kenya over the murder of Olympic athletes, and also in other African nations, including South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda.

Activists say the demonstrations were among the largest apolitical protests in Kenya’s history: at least 10,000 women and men filled the streets of Nairobi alone, and thousands more joined in other cities.

At a time of rising anti-gay sentiments, the protests were also aimed at highlighting the violence faced by non-binary, queer and transgender women, said Marylize Biubwa, a Kenyan queer activist.

The movement has sparked backlash, especially online, from men who argue that a woman’s clothing or choices justify abuse. These comments are spread with hashtags like #StopKillingMen and by social media influencers like Andrew Kibe, a men’s rights advocate and former radio host whose YouTube account was shut down last year for violating YouTube’s terms of service. the company.

“Shut up,” he said in a recent video, referring to those outraged by the murders of women. “You have no right to have an opinion.”

Activists say they don’t see enough outrage from political, ethnic or religious leaders.

In Kenya, President William Ruto has been criticized for failing to personally address feminicide. A spokesperson for his office did not respond to requests for comment. But after the protests, his government fiance to speed up investigations and introduced a toll-free number so the public can report perpetrators.

Still, in Kenya and across Africa, activists say more investigators need to be hired, judges need to decide cases more quickly and legislatures should pass laws to more severely punish perpetrators.

Data collection and research on femicide needs to be funded, said Patricia Andago, a researcher at data company Odipo Dev.

For now, the murders continue to leave a trail of devastation.

On a recent afternoon, Thuiya, whose 24-year-old daughter was murdered in January, sat hugging her two granddaughters, 5-year-old Keisha and 22-month-old Milan. She said Keisha believed her mother ascended “into heaven” and asked if she could get a ladder to follow her.

“It was very painful,” Thuiya said of hearing her granddaughter’s questions. “I just want justice for my daughter. And I want that justice now.”

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