Last Friday in Nairobi, I sat in a room with survivors of 2007/2008 post-election violence. They shared their experiences 14 years after the horrendous attacks. Theirs were not stories of overcoming the pain and moving on but a painful reminder of how sexual violence destroys lives.
A survivor said the child from rape is a “constant reminder of the ordeal”. Another, who is living with disability, recalled how she was raped and infected with HIV while eight months pregnant. Her son was born prematurely and died a month later. She said: “It hurts me very much that I’m HIV-positive because of a stranger; because of an election.”
In 2008, Dr Sam Thenya, the then-Nairobi Women’s Hospital chief executive officer, told the Justice Philip Waki-led Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence (Cipev) that at least 900 survivors, mostly women, were treated in his and other partner hospitals. Men and children also suffered.
The Coalition on Violence against Women (Covaw) puts the number of women raped at more than 3,000. Understandably, survivors are not just statistics: They are people who have been dehumanised by police officers, gangs, neighbours, relatives, supposed friends and individuals working in internally displaced persons’ camps as identified by Cipev.
Worse, this injustice was repeated in 2017. The International Federation for Human Rights and the Kenya Human Rights Commission documented 51 cases of women survivors in three counties. Their experiences drew realities of the yet-to-heal hearts.
Afraid of the word ‘election’
Many women and men are very afraid of the word ‘election’. We cannot afford to have anyone else dealing with preventable depression and anxiety.
At a sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) prevention and response scientific conference at Kenya School of Government last year, Council of Governors CEO Mary Mwiti said counties were prepared to tackle the crime in the August 9 general election.
But her presentation was more of a repetition of a statement released by Gender Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia in April 2021.It lacked in concrete and tangible actions. While the government has collaborated with NGOs to sensitise communities to peaceful elections and speak against sexual violence, how many perpetrators of the post-election sexual violence have been prosecuted?
Names of security agents
A survivor mooted publishing the names of security agents deployed in every place during elections as a deterrent and to ease collection of evidence in case of an offence. Another suggested pre-counselling security agents and training them in the handling of women and girls in case of violence.
It is not enough for the government to say it has established a SGBV inter-agency unit or has national and county gender working groups. This is the time to run an aggressive campaign against sexual violence. Every Kenyan should by now be walking around singing: “I have no right to abuse anyone.”
A decade later, the scars in the survivors’ hearts and minds cannot be masked. To ease their pain, let’s eliminate sexual violence. The monster should not be allowed in these elections—or ever again.
Ms Obiria is a gender writer at Nation Media Group. [email protected].