By Wanjohi Kibicho
In more than 20 years conducting social science studies, I have interviewed thousands of women throughout the world. More than half of them have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence.
Nonetheless, musician Koffi Olomide’s recent assault on one of his female dancers at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was too close to home. Within 24 hours of the incident, the government had issued a no-nonsense press statement unequivocally stating that violence against women and girls was not acceptable in Kenya. It followed this with the deportation of the musician.
This is a strong step forward in Kenya’s efforts to stamp out the scourge of gender violence and made many Kenyans proud. It is safe to say that this is only the beginning as much remains to be done to exhaustively deal with this monster as any genre of violence is unacceptable for it is an egregious violation of human rights.
According to the United Nations, violence against women denotes any act that results in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
Gender violence knows no cultural, religion, class, or geographical boundaries. It impacts women in developed as well as developing countries. This type of violence manifests itself in different forms: ruthless kidnappings of schoolgirls, archaic forced child marriages, outmoded female genital mutilation, unabated violence in homes.
In Kenya, gender inequality is apparent in many spheres of life: politics, religion, and the workplace. In varying degrees, both men and women receive blatant and or covert messages that men or boys are more important than women or girls. This fabricated inequality creates a rationale for humiliation, intimidation, control, abuse, and even killing. It instils an erroneous and self-serving believe that men have a God-given right to be in charge and to control women.
This mindset begets violence against women and girls. It excuses parents who decide to abort a female embryo, the family that chooses to educate a boy above a girl, parents who expect girls to stay at home to take care of the family, the brutal husband who beats his wife, and the employer who has a lower pay scale for female employees.
However, going by the huge outpouring on social media after the Olomide saga, this worldview is no longer tenable. It disapproves the misplaced argument that violence against women is so deeply embedded in African society that it often fails to garner public censure and outrage. I am convinced that we will all benefit as girls and boys and men and women are given equal chances to realise their full potential.
We should never forget what lessons our children will carry with them about their gender and self-worth. We should, both individually and collectively, endeavour to teach our girls to worry less about fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering glass ceilings.
As parents, we are our children’s safety nets and their primary models of empathy and self-respect. Coming together as families and concerned adults to deal with this menace, therefore, will have far-reaching positive impacts. For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women, and for every woman denied an opportunity to fulfil her potential, we destroy a generation.
Nelson Mandela captured it best when he said that as long as we prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress would be slow. A nation that refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself is doomed to failure.
This means avoiding not only physical but also psychological violence against women. Hence, it is imperative for all of us to extend our stand against violence to teaching our children a broader definition of humanity that entails being empathetic, caring, and loving.
If your tradition requires you to be violent against another being, you need a new tradition. Traditions are supposed to be guideposts that help us counter alienation and confusion.