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FOCUS: KENYA
No country for women
Those raped during Kenya's post-election violence have found little support or justice.
Last Modified: 27 Dec 2008 13:12 GMT

Kenya's slums, like this one in Kibera, were the scene of much of the post-election violence
[© Brendan Bannon | W I R Media]

A year on from the violence that broke out immediately after the 2007 presidential elections in Kenya, the country appears to have moved on.

Local and international headlines are now reflecting the debate over whether some of the bigger names implicated in the violence should be given amnesty.

But while things appear normal on the surface - the debris has been cleaned up, the politicians have shaken hands and the economy is getting back on track - there are those, often women, often hidden away in one of the country's slums, whose lives have been permanently changed.

They have not been able to move on. Their pain is still too real and now their plight is being forgotten or ignored.

'This is politics'

"Just pray to God for a new life. This is politics and there is nothing we can do about it," were the only 'comforting' words that Nancy Wanjiru's local government leader could offer when she approached him, seeking justice after being raped by her neighbours.

'I live in hope'

Nancy was raped and contracted HIV. She tells her story ...

A mother of four, Nancy is from Nairobi's Mathare slum. She now lives, with three of her children, in a one room tin structure that was donated to her by a friend. Her eldest daughter has returned to Nancy's ancestral village.

Before the elections, Nancy owned a hairdressing business and ran a bar with her husband. But all that remains now is the plot of land where the businesses and her home once stood. Everything was burnt to the ground.

This was not all Nancy lost in the violence.

"I was having breakfast with my husband on the morning of January 3," she says as we stand in the open field where her home used to be.

"There was a knock at the door but before we could even open it, two men burst in and started attacking my husband and I. I knew them both - they were my neighbours."

The men struck Nancy's head with a machete. Her husband, pleading with the attackers to let his wife go, was beaten senseless, thrown into a nearby river and left for dead.

They then turned on Nancy, raping her repeatedly.

"I was too concerned about my husband at that time," she says.

"Some friends and I found him by the river, he hadn't died. We rushed him to the hospital. I did not tell anyone that I had been raped."

Nancy says she was so embarrassed by what had happened to her that, even at the hospital, she was reluctant to seek help for herself.

'Death sentence'

A few days later she started to feel unwell and felt that she had to tell her husband what had happened.

Nancy lives in Nairobi's Mathare slum
[© Stephen Digges | W I R Media]
"I opened up to my husband and told him that I'd been raped," she says.

"It came as a shock to him but he accepted me, at that time. I also told my eldest son, who is 16. People were starting to talk about it at the IDP [internally displaced persons] camp where we had taken refuge. I didn't want my family to hear it from someone else."

With no money, all Nancy could do was visit a slum clinic and take painkillers.

Then her husband's family took him in but left Nancy and her children at the camp.

"I'd still go to look after him, and to do his laundry, then go back to the camp," she says.

That was until the day her husband told her that he no longer wanted a woman who had been raped.

At this time, Nancy's eldest son insisted she be tested for HIV.

"Three months after the rape, I went to a mobile clinic that had been set up at the camp. I tested positive. I waited for another two weeks and tested again. I was still HIV positive.

"It was a dark moment for me. I knew I had got a death sentence on my life now. I had been infected by the two men who raped me. It was worse because I knew them and even to this day, still see them free, and going on with life as though it all happened in my imagination."

'Abandoned'

"The final action lies with the government," says Millicent Obaso, Care International's advisor on HIV/Aids.

"It is the government that has abandoned women like Nancy and many more, who are still seriously sick. Some have died and some have lost their sanity."

Obaso explains that about 46 per cent of those who were subjected to sexual attacks where children and that of all the women raped during the violence, 31 per cent contracted HIV.

Pamela Aoko was shot when a gang attacked her [© Brendan Bannon | W I R Media]
"That ought to make someone in authority uncomfortable enough to take action," she says.

"But there has not [been] any programme - not even a counselling programme - set up by the government to help the victims .... There seems to be a lot of tolerance of sexual violence on all levels."

When Nancy went to the police station to report her rape and to say that she could identify her rapists, one of the men was arrested.

"But just about two days later, my area member of parliament and the local councillor went in to the police station and had him released. I could not fight against such people as I now do not have any money," Nancy says.

"As a matter of fact, I now try hard to befriend these people who raped me and destroyed my whole life - lest violence breaks out again and they hurt me again. So I'd rather be on good terms with them."

Obaso, who has been working with a lot of women who were sexually abused, says that the response to these women has been inadequate.

"We are now offering these women legal advice and representation so if there are some who still want to sue their perpetrators, they can do so."

'Suffering in secret'

While Nancy has spoken out about her ordeal, many more women have suffered in silence.

"But we are so many of us suffering in secret - almost all the women who got raped were thrown out by their husbands.

"I have a friend who just delivered twins. She got pregnant after a rape ordeal in January. But she would not be willing to talk to anyone about it. She keeps saying that she thinks she is losing her mind," says Jane Auma, who would only talk to me over the telephone.

Jane was also raped, along with her daughter. While both of them contracted HIV, her daughter also fell pregnant but later miscarried.

Abandoned by her husband, Jane is now living in poverty in the Kibera slum.

A handful of NGOs are offering counselling services to these women, but otherwise they are being forgotten while the rest of the country talks of peace and reconciliation.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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