On Kenyan Election Day, many are apprehensively remembering the violence that took place during the last election in 2007, which claimed the lives of over 1,000 people.
However, in yet another bold move that seems to underscore a growing global resistance to the occurrence of sexual violence, eight Kenyan rape survivors from that time are coming out and suing the government for their inaction. Bringing this to national, and international, attention during this highly-publicized election season says we will not pretend that it never happened, or that it won't happen again — especially when impunity is tolerated at the highest levels.
According to the IRIN, the case is being heard by the Nairobi High Court, and is faulting the government for both failing to protect people from violence during the 2007-2008 time period, as well as neglecting to investigate or carry out the prosecution of perpetrators.
The Kenyan constitution does compel the government to provide services to victims of sexual assault, however, as is often case, these services are rarely available. Saida Ali, the executive director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women (CVAW), explained to IRIN that while the “constitution is clear on the role of government in providing services to victims of [sexual and gender-based violence],” no one wants to take the responsibility. This includes both the police, as well as those working in the public health sector.
Bringing such a case to court could increase the visibility of the issue in a country where violence against women is common, and generally not seen to be a “serious crime.”
What is especially note-worthy is that of the eight survivors coming forward, two are men. This highlights the typically overlooked fact that men too suffer this kind of violence, and more often than not, will never report the crime for a myriad of reasons, one of which is of course the stigma and shame that surround it.
In addition, this is another example in the recent past of a group speaking up about, and taking action against, gender-based violence (GBV). With the international outrage around the fatal gang rape of a young female student in India, to the global wave of protests last month during the One Billion Rising Campaign, to this week’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York City — focusing specifically on violence against women and girls — there appears to be something of a groundswell around this issue.
As Jessica Mack wrote in The Guardian: “Last month's One Billion Rising movement, the largest simultaneous global action to end violence against women that the world has ever seen, did not happen for fun. It happened because it had to.”
When large-scale acts of violence occur, such as that which played out in Kenya during the last election, incidences of sexual violence are far too frequently ignored and overlooked. Saida Ali estimates that over 3,000 acts of sexual violence were committed in Kenya during the riots.
The fact that these eight survivors, along with six civil society organizations, are holding the government responsible for not protecting its people, or for taking it seriously enough to prosecute, is an important step forward in a broader context of powerful efforts being made to end the silence around, and eventually the occurrence of, sexual violence.