In the final week of January 2024, hundreds of young women and male supporters assembled in Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa, Nyeri, and Lodwar, protesting against surge of femicide cases in the past 3 weeks. Many held placards and donned t-shirts bearing the names of young women who fell victim to suspicious and gender-based violence (GBV) murders across the country.
According to a 2022 survey, at least one in three Kenyan women experienced physical violence at some stage in their lives. Femicide, the intentional killing of a woman or girl because of their gender, remains a pressing concern in Kenya.
Amnesty International reports over 500 cases of femicide in Kenya between 2016 and 2023. A significant number of these victims were slain by intimate partners or individuals known to them.
Human rights defenders and civil advocates are urging authorities to accelerate the delivery of justice for all recent victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
The nation was recently shaken by two high-profile cases involving women murdered at Airbnb accommodations in Roysambu and South B, Nairobi County.
The second victim, a university student, was tragically dismembered and decapitated following an attack from an ex-boyfriend in Machakos County.
These incidents have intensified calls for urgent action to address the pervasive issue of gender-based violence in Kenya.
The murders ignited widespread outrage at the same time an equal if not overwhelming a surge of hate speech online, underscoring the urgent need to address violence against women and highlighting the pervasive issue of cyberbullying and misinformation within the realm of women's empowerment.
Online hate manifested in various forms, ranging from misogynistic insults and derogatory remarks aimed at empowered women to the embarrassment and reputational damage inflicted upon sexually active individuals who deviated from societal norms.
Additionally, threats of physical violence and the sexualized distortion of women's sexuality further exacerbated the toxicity of online discourse.
These distressing developments underscore the imperative for concerted efforts to combat cyberbullying, misinformation, and the systemic biases that perpetuate violence and discrimination against women.
It is essential to foster a culture of respect, tolerance, and inclusivity both online and offline to ensure the safety and well-being of all individuals, regardless of gender.
Online violence against women, particularly those who defy societal norms regarding sexual behavior and expression, represents a significant facet of the broader global issue of violence against women in sexual and reproductive health rights.
This encompasses a wide spectrum of aggressive behaviors, coercion, and intimidation targeting sexually active women solely because of their gender.
The phenomenon of online violence reflects and perpetuates deeply ingrained societal attitudes and biases surrounding women's sexuality in Kenya.
Women who challenge traditional norms, assert their autonomy over their sexual and reproductive health, or act against expected standard of behaviors are often subjected to harassment, abuse, and discrimination in digital spaces.
It is crucial to recognize that online violence against women is not an isolated problem but rather intersects with and reinforces systemic inequalities and injustices faced by women worldwide.
Addressing this issue requires comprehensive strategies that tackle the root causes of gender-based violence and promote gender equality, both online and offline.
Efforts to combat online violence must prioritize the protection of women's rights to autonomy, dignity, and safety in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual and reproductive health decisions.
This entails fostering a culture of respect, consent, and support for women's agency and empowerment, free from the fear of retaliation or discrimination.
The notion that victims of femicide somehow deserve their tragic fate is a dangerous fallacy that distorts societal perceptions of justice and accountability.
This harmful belief perpetuates a culture of victim-blaming, wherein perpetrators evade responsibility for their heinous actions, while the blame is unjustly placed on the victims themselves.
This insidious mindset not only undermines the fundamental principles of justice but also perpetuates systemic inequalities and injustices faced by women.
By absolving perpetrators of their crimes and shifting the blame onto the victims, this mentality perpetuates a culture of impunity that further marginalizes and silences survivors of gender-based violence.
Furthermore, women who subscribe to this harmful train of thought inadvertently contribute to the perpetuation of victim-blaming and gender-based violence especially femicide.
By endorsing such beliefs, they not only harm survivors but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about femicide and other forms of gender based violence.
It is imperative to challenge and dismantle these harmful beliefs and attitudes, and instead foster a culture of accountability, empathy, and support for survivors of femicide.
By promoting awareness, education, and empathy, we can work towards creating a society where survivors are believed, supported, and empowered to seek justice and healing.