A recent survey released by ActionAid revealed widespread harassment of young women with as many as three quarters (74 per cent) of Kenya’s young women reporting that they had come face to face with sexual harassment in the last six months.
According to a new study, young women aged between 14 and 21 are living in fear of unwanted sexual advances, both physical and now increasingly on the interweb. Social media, where the uncouth behaviour seems to have spilt over uninhibited according to the report, has exacerbated the problem. Seventeen-year-old Grace Achieng*, a high school student from Nairobi, told DN2 that she cannot count the times she has had uninvited comments thrown her way by strangers in public places. “People working in public transport seem to have a proclivity to this behaviour. I can’t recall the many times I have heard “wewe ni size” (a phrase with sexual connotations commonly used by men to harass women, meaning, ‘you’re my size’) said to me at bodaboda stations or bus stops,” she says.
But for Ms Muthoka, the assault has defied physical confines, leaping onto social media platforms where sharing of offensive material has become routine, as people get a virtual platform to say things that they would not ordinarily say in person. “I have often had to delete obscene material from my cell phone and warn a classmate or contact from sending me such things, but sometimes they just keep sending them until I block them,” she says. She reckons that a national dialogue regarding sexual harassment on our social media ought to be encouraged. Ms Jane Godia, an editor at The African Woman and Child Feature Services, who provides services to girls who have been victims of such indecent acts, says the issue runs deeper, and lack of sex education in schools and general community awareness are major contributors to this moral decay. Most sexual harassment cases the organisation handles, she notes, are perpetrated by older men on girls who are young and defenceless.
“The behaviour violates the girl’s dignity, and she ends up feeling humiliated, degraded and threatened,” Ms Godia notes. She adds: “The cases we have dealt with often involve someone who has more power, like an older relative, a neighbour, a stranger, or even teachers.” The young girls, she adds, are often weak and lacking the ability to control the dynamics. “Most of them don’t even have the capacity to make informed decisions,” she says.