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“Why Kenyan Women Are Walking Out of Parliament Budget Meetings”

A Kenyan lawmaker has been charged with assault after he hit a female colleague for refusing to give money to his constituency.

The man, Rashid Amin, has been accused of hitting the woman until she bled from the mouth in the parking lot of the Parliament buildings.

Amin denied the charges in court and was released after posting bail at 50,000 shillings (about $487). According to witnesses, Amin hit the woman twice before he was held back by another colleague. An image on Twitter shows the woman, Fatuma Gedi, crying and bleeding after the incident.

The attack has set off strong reactions across Kenya. Female lawmakers in Kenya chanted “Arrest Rashid,” “Women power,” and “Shame on him” after walking out during a budget meeting. Video footage of the walkout shows men laughing in the background. It is reported that several male members of Parliament were teasing the female colleagues about the incident. Sabina Wanjiru Chege, a member of Parliament, was not impressed. “Some of our male colleagues started mocking us and saying it was slapping day,” she said.

Gender-based violence is on the rise in Kenya. Recently, up to 52 cases have been reported, including violence towards women leaders. In many villages across Kenya, women are still considered property and wife-beating is encouraged. If a man doesn’t beat his wife, he is often considered a weakling. A recent study shows that 70 percent of those interviewed said they know neighbors who beat their wives, 60 percent said that women are to blame for the beatings, and only 51 percent said that these men should be punished. In rare cases, women have taken their husbands to court for abuse, but are usually convinced by family members and friends to drop the charges or to change the charge to minor assault. The women are also told to return to their husbands, even if the abuse continues.

One woman endured 13 years of abuse with her husband before she was beaten to the point where she had to be carried to the hospital. She was forced by her family to marry her husband at age 18. Because she sent her husband to jail, she has become an outcast among the women in the Masai tribe.

Some efforts have been taken to ensure that women are protected, including requiring an official complaint from the victim if they are taken to the hospital for treatment. Even so, this tactic has discouraged many women from seeking treatment or from speaking out, for fear of stigma from their community.

Authorities in Kenya have also created a commission on gender and equality which has a full set of laws aimed at protecting women. The problem lies in the implementation of such laws.

Joyce Mutinda, the commission’s chairwoman, is urging local law enforcement to make the right decisions to secure Gedi’s safety.  Regarding the incident, Mutinda said , “This is the height of intolerance that reeks of sheer arrogance punctuated by total disrespect for women and venerated public spaces of honor.” She then referred to Amin, saying that he  “must be told that he cannot use his elevated office to assault honorable or ordinary members of the public, especially when they are pursuing legitimate issues of public interest.” 

Featured Image by Michael Jefferies on Flickr.

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0

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