By Shola Lawal
The murders of two Kenyan women this month are spotlighting a worrying regularity in gender-based violence in the East African country, with activists calling for more government measures to protect women.
Rita Waeni, a 20-year-old student was killed and dismembered in a shortlet apartment in the capital Nairobi on January 14. Days before, a popular Instagram figure, Starlet Wahu, 26, was found dead in an Airbnb room, bleeding out from a fatal stab wound inflicted by a man she met online.
They are only two of at least four reported gender-based murders in Kenya since the start of the year, as the country faces an increasing number of killings and abuses meted on women, rights groups say.
Amid social media outrage, women assembled in protest on January 27 to demand more action from authorities.
Thousands of people gathered to protest in cities and towns in Kenya against the recent slayings of more than a dozen women.
The anti-femicide demonstration on was the largest event ever held in the country against sexual and gender-based violence.
In the capital, Nairobi, protesters wore T-shirts printed with the names of women who became homicide victims this month. The crowd, composed mostly of women, brought traffic to a standstill.
“Stop killing us!” the demonstrators shouted as they waved signs with messages such as “There is no justification to kill women.”
The crowd in Nairobi was hostile to attempts by the parliamentary representative for women, Esther Passaris, to address them. Accusing Passaris of remaining silent during the latest wave of killings, protesters shouted her down with chants of “Where were you?” and “Go home!”
“A country is judged by not how well it treats its rich people, but how well it takes care of the weak and vulnerable,” said Law Society of Kenya President Eric Theuri, who was among the demonstrators.
What do we know about the recent murders?
CCTV footage captured Starlet Wahu, a social media influencer, walking with a male figure into a shortlet in a mid-class neighbourhood in Nairobi on the evening of January 3. The man left the premises the next morning with bloodied clothes and a possible leg injury, a guard told the police. Wahu was found lifeless, with stab wounds and bite marks. Police found HIV test kits and a bloodied knife in the room. A suspect, believed to be a serial offender, has been arrested. Several women have stepped up to accuse the same man of previous assaults.
Nearly two weeks later, on January 14, the dismembered body of Rita Waeni, a fourth-year student of Nairobi’s agriculture university, was found in a bag dumped at a trash collection point in the central business district.
Waeni had also entered a short-term rental with a man the day before, but eyewitnesses say only the man left the room, and that blood traces led them to the bag. Waeni’s family members said they received texts for a ransom, possibly after her murder. Local papers report that Waeni may have been lured by her murderer through the social app, Instagram.
Three male suspects are in custody – one was arrested at the airport on his way out of Kenya.
Kenyan media have also reported the murders of two other women in the last week. Police say Christine Aume was cooking in her detached kitchen in Homa Bay, western Kenya, when she was attacked and beheaded on January 17. On the same day, police found a woman murdered and dumped by a road in Kiambu County, central Kenya.
How many women have been murdered?
Activists in Kenya say the country is experiencing increasing rates of femicide, which is defined as the intentional murder of women or girls primarily because of their gender, and usually by their partners or other persons they know like family members.
The Kenyan government doesn’t collect figures on women murders. However, Femicide Count Kenya, which monitors killings reported in local news, recorded 58 deaths it labelled as femicides between January and October 2022. In 2023, the organisation said it recorded at least 152 killings – the highest in the past five years.
Some 500 Kenyan women were murdered between 2017 and 2024, according to another estimate by investigative platforms Africa Uncensored and Africa Data Hub.
Abuse cases are rife. News reports document women being beaten, stabbed and raped. Nonprofit Usikimye, which runs a helpline for female survivors of violence, says it receives more than 150 calls daily, including from people who refer to a third party suffering abuse.
A 2022 national survey also found that about a third of Kenyan females – some nine million women – have experienced some form of physical violence.
Although many of the deaths occurred in private spaces, women in Nairobi say there’s a general atmosphere of fear in the city, and that they are finding safety in measures like travelling in groups because they have little faith in the authorities.
“We as Kenyan women are not being listened to,” said Inyika Odero, an activist and model who helped organise a virtual protest and discussion on Sunday after authorities refused her a protest permit.
“What else can we do apart from travel in groups and try to get home before it’s dark which is almost impossible because people have jobs and take public transportation?” Odero said. “We are not allowed to have tasers or pepper spray, that’s illegal.”
What do women’s groups want now?
Many in Kenya are following the ongoing investigations into the murders of Wahu and Waeni. Officials say they are still trying to find suspects in the other two murders reported this week.
Kenya is going through a national “crisis” rights groups say. Some like Momanyi say there hasn’t been an effective response from President William Ruto’s administration to the issue, and add that his government is “insensitive”.
Harriet Chiggai, the president’s advisor, has condemned the recent femicide cases and assured that the government was taking measures to tackle the issue.
“Let me reiterate that the government in its women’s agenda is explicitly committed to ending all forms of violence,” Chiggai said at a news conference in Nairobi on January 19.
Activists are demanding that femicide be distinctly recognised as a crime and for perpetrators to receive heavier sentences. They also want the government to collect data on women, and for health and law officers to be trained so they can proactively identify and protect vulnerable people.
Source: Al Jazeera