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Femicide in Kenya: The Country’s Toxic Misogynistic Pattern

Since the start of this year, four cases of femicide have been reported in Kenya. Rights groups are calling for the government to immediately investigate and prosecute cases of femicide in the country. 

Two of these have gained public attention; the murder of 26-year-old Starlet Wahu and the brutal murder of another young woman at an Airbnb in Nairobi, the capital city. Wahu was stabbed and killed on 4 January by a man who is alleged to be part of a criminal ring. It is understood that this criminal ring targets and abuses women through dating sites. Not long after, another woman’s body was found in a rented flat where she had arranged for her to meet a man. Her body was dismembered and disposed of in plastic bags. 

Social media outrage in the country has been on the rise, with #StopKillingWomen and #EndFemicideKe trending. These cases have highlighted the broader issues of gender-based violence, and reveals the prevalence of these issues within the community. 

Rights groups, such as Feminists in Kenya, claimed their condemnation of the recent events, “as well as any notion suggesting that women perceived as living outside patriarchal standards deserve death”. This highlights a pattern of femicide that has been escalating in the country during recent years. Last year, Femicide Court Kenya reported 152 killings - the highest number of killings reported in the past five years. Representatives of the organisation are certain, however, that actual numbers are likely to be far higher. 

The public reaction to these two cases was divided. While there was mass support for the two victims, there were also sentiments of victim blaming. Suggestions that women should take greater safety precautions in certain situations, and debates around the safety of short term rentals are prevalent in the discussion. Rights groups have retaliated, arguing that focusing the blame on the women ignores the root of the problem - a patriarchal society that allows men to get away with such brutal activity. Feminists in Kenya, a popular rights group in the country, powerfully states that “These notions dangerously suggest that women deserve harm for not exerting sufficient effort to ensure their safety”. 

The motivations of gender-based violence within the country are wide ranging, with circumstances for murder and assault ranging from domestic abuse, to robbery, and to cultural practices. In addition, more than one in every three women in Kenya report having experienced some form of physical violence in their lifetime (according to a 2022 national survey).

Thus, one of the most prevalent challenges, as recognised by legal systems and rights groups, is the lack of accountability. Perpetrators of violence often walk free due to weak investigations, corrupt systems, and the social stigma that surrounds reporting violence. There is a popular sentiment that the government is remaining complicit in such situations, therefore reinforcing the importance and necessity of civilian mobilisation to pressure the government to hold perpetrators of violence accountable. 

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