TW: mention of sexual assault and physical abuse
Barely one month into 2024 and 16 women have been killed brutally in Kenya.
These women, regardless of their age, academic qualifications, stance on political issues, marital status, and even the most mundane details like how they were dressed or their whereabouts, they all ended up falling victim at the hands of predators who ruthlessly ended their innocent lives.
As reported by the Uganda Police Force in the Annual Crime Report 2022, 14,693 sex-related crimes were reported countrywide. Altogether, there were 14,795 victims, 12,816 of whom were girls (females under the age of 18), 1,946 were female adults and 33 were boys (males under the age of 18). In spite of a significant decrease from 16,373 sex-related crimes reported in 2021, the numbers of women and girls in our communities enduring the gruesome consequences of violent sexual abuse is distressing.
The worst part is that it does not always end with sexual abuse, because the perpetrators every so often take their sadistic tendencies a mile further and murder the victims in cold blood. As a result, horrific cases of femicide have been on the rise; with only a handful of them gaining enough media coverage to cause alarm and even then, the criminals are never brought to justice. In 2017, at least 23 women were murdered in Uganda in a space of just four months, all in the same cruel manner – their lifeless bodies dumped in shrubs, some of them dismembered and showing evident signs of rape. In the same year, more than 2,000 women (age 14 and above) were murdered in South Africa. The recurrence of incidents where both in life and in death women are treated with no regard for their humanity is a testament to the overall notion that in the eyes of our society, women’s lives weigh so little making them disposable and inferior to most.
It does not help to assume that women in communities further away are safer from the danger of falling victim to crimes where women are targeted because that couldn’t be further from the reality. The Femicide Census UK reported that 110 women were killed by men in 2020 and in Turkey, 474 women were killed in 2019 summing the number of women who had been killed since 2008 to 3185 women. On the surface, it’s just numbers but these were women with lives, dreams ambition and hopes, women who had rolled out plans for the year, women who were part of families, women who were role models, bread winners; women who were simply going about being alive only to have their lives cut short at the hands of rapists and murders.
In her book, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women, Mona Eltahawy writes “If every act of violence against women were reported on the news, it would be recognized for the epidemic—the war – that it is.” It is no secret that what we see in the media is only the fraction that makes it past the filters and scrutiny behind the scenes in an attempt to publicize only what’s traditionally accepted for public viewership. In light of the above, it is key to know that incalculable incidents of violence against women are happening right under our noses in households, schools, workplaces and places of worship. This can be attributed to the outright patriarchal views that the abuse of women is a normal occurrence; as if it is a rite of passage to tolerate suffering at the hands of men. So, at heart, we must know and see the reality for what it is that the plight of women is much worse than what we are allowed to think.
Besides the content in the media, another reflection of how extreme the issue of violence against women and girls is, is how heavy it weighs even in personal conversations with peers. This is because of the shared real-life experiences – some of them near-death experiences of physical violence and sexual harassment. The common pattern is that a male lover/ friend/relative/acquaintance/elder was trusted and kept within close vicinity, only for him to morph into an unrecognizable persistently coercive frightening stranger that wanted only to take advantage of them. Considering that, out of 87,000 women who were killed in 2017, over a third were killed by a spouse/intimate partner. This puts it to us that women are not safe; and the women in danger are not just strangers but it is our sisters, friends, mothers having to deal with unjustified violence against them. The crisis is closer to home than we believe it to be!
So, where does that leave us? This catastrophe where at any given time where a woman’s only offense is being a woman can be reason for her demise. If society itself is failing us, stealing from us, sexually abusing us, killing us – where do we look to fend for our lives?
Written by Noeline Atukunda