Stop labelling women who speak against violence

What you need to know:

  • Asking a woman not to take a threat levelled against her personally is tantamount to sanitising and normalising the vice.

A bile-inducing incident starring ‘honourable’ members was the subject of much debate over the past week.

It came to the attention of the public through a widely shared video clip showing the members engaged in unhealthy debate as usual.

The stars of this latest episode of Politicians Behaving Badly were Didmus Barasa, Gladys Wanga and Esther Passaris.

What was unusual, however, was that during what seemed like a vitriolic, highly-charged exchange with the two female politicians, a visibly agitated Mr Barasa asked the Speaker, Justin Muturi, to protect him from the women.

“Yes, you are protected,” came the swift response.

“Cry me a river!” you may be tempted to shout, seeing as everybody was shouting, but Mr Barasa was not done yet.

He then issued a verbal threat to the women, saying he would “punch this lady who is making noise”, but when Ms Passaris stood up to protest, and rightly so, her words and actions were met with these traumatising words: “Don’t be personal”, among other things whose importance fades in comparison to this poignant phrase.


While the seemingly harmless words might have been a grand attempt by Mr Speaker to restore calm and order, they are also an apt metaphor for the casual and dismissive attitude the Kenyan society sometimes has regarding gender-based violence.

“Don’t take it personally” is an extremely common reaction in cases of gender-based violence, but how can anyone not take such a threat personally?

Asking a woman not to take a threat levelled against her personally is tantamount to sanitising and normalising the vice.

We are marking 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls that runs from November 25 to December 10.

It would be prudent to examine this statement alongside its cousins, brothers and sisters.

Women who dare raise their voices against gender-based violence are often called too sensitive, hysterical, unreasonable, or toxic feminists — and these are just the printable denigrations.


This should not be surprising, given the culture of silence around matters related to gender-based violence.

That’s why we need more ‘bad’, unapologetic women who have no qualms about owning these labels if it means speaking out.

It’s mind-boggling, really, how any woman living in Kenya can afford not to be hysterical about gender-based violence.

How can any woman maintain her sanity when she wakes up every day to headlines about women strangled, stabbed, shot, hacked, maimed or set ablaze?

The statistics on femicide drive the point further home. According to Counting Dead Women Kenya, a femicide awareness platform, 46 women were victims of femicide between January 1 and May 2.

By November 16, this figure had risen to 82. Kenya is among the countries with the highest cases of female homicides and abuse against women, according to a 2018 report titled "Global Study on Homicide: Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls".


Women like Joyce Syombua, who died from injuries on her head and brain inflicted by a blunt object, while her two children were strangled to death with a rope in Nanyuki, and Lucy Nyira, who was doused in petrol and set on fire by her husband in Nakuru, represent the chilling reality of women in Kenya and the world.

The painful truth is that even our children and grandmothers are at risk.

So please stop asking women and girls not to take it personally when they feel threatened because it’s very, very personal and oftentimes, the difference between staying alive and dying.

The most vulnerable women and girls who need care, support and protection do not have microphones to shout from or bodyguards who will come to their rescue, so let’s start by giving them room to take threats personally.

The writer is the editor, ‘Living Magazine’; [email protected]