The Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) calls on the Government of Kenya to prevent and ensure accountability for femicide by training and supporting the National Police Service and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution to investigate and prosecute cases of gender-based violence. At least 10 women have been killed in the first month of 2024 alone, intensifying an already troubling trend. According to data collected by Femicide Count Kenya, 504 women have been murdered between 2019 and 2024.
On January 4, 2024, the stabbing to death of 26-year-old Starlet Wahu made headlines. This was followed by several other cases that horrified the nation. The case of Rita Waeni was extremely brutal, including mutilation. Dr. Johannsen Oduor, the Government Pathologist, who conducted her postmortem, is on record saying he has never witnessed a murder like this in his entire forensic life. Other victims showed signs of being sexually violated before being killed.
The CASV is convened by the Wangu Kanja Foundation and aims to consolidate efforts from 15 women’s rights organizations to address sexual violence in Kenya. It was established to end sexual violence and advance human rights in Kenya through joint advocacy, awareness creation, social mobilization, resource mobilization, and building relations and partnerships.
As a coalition we cannot ignore the connection between femicide and sexual violence. Sexual violence, an insidious form of gender-based aggression, is intricately linked to the ongoing surge in femicide cases. It also often serves as a precursor to femicide.
The intersectionality of these crimes highlights the urgent need for comprehensive strategies that address the root causes of both sexual violence and femicide. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes often harbor deep-rooted misogynistic beliefs, viewing women as objects to be dominated and controlled. Such attitudes contribute to a toxic environment where violence against women is not only tolerated but, in some cases, normalized. It is especially horrifying to see the response of the public on social media sites. The blame is laid squarely on the victims for not protecting themselves enough, shifting the blame away from the murderers.
The Kenyan Constitution includes provisions that explicitly safeguard the rights of women and protect them from violence. Article 28 guarantees the right to dignity and personal security and article 43 emphasizes the right to the highest attainable standard of health. The state’s failure to prevent femicide is a clear and direct violation of these constitutional provisions.
Kenya is also a party to international human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture, among others, all of which require the government to take effective measures to prevent, investigate, and address gender-based violence.
Despite these domestic and international legal obligations, there has been a noticeable gap in the government’s response to the escalating cases of femicide. The lack of comprehensive preventive measures, quick investigations, and swift legal actions against perpetrators has raised concerns about the state’s commitment to protecting women from violence. The state’s failure to protect women is starkly illustrated by the tragic cases of Starlet Wahu and Rita Waeni, among others. These incidents represent a systemic breakdown in preventing, investigating, adjudicating, and prosecuting acts of violence against women. The Coalition strongly condemns this failure in the strongest terms and demands accountability.
To address this crisis, the CASV calls on the following key actors:
Office of the President of the Republic of Kenya: We urge the President to break his silence on femicide and take a decisive stand against violence towards women. The Office of the Women’s Rights Advisor to the President should undertake countrywide campaigns aimed at addressing the root cause of gender-based violence. We call for leadership from the top in prioritizing the protection of women and implementing robust measures to prevent and respond to femicide.
Ministry of Interior and National Administration: The Ministry must act swiftly to apprehend perpetrators and ensure accountability through a fair and expedited legal process. Timely responses not only provide justice for victims but also act as a deterrent, discouraging potential offenders and signalling the government’s commitment to protecting women.
Ministry of Gender, Culture, the Arts and Heritage: We call upon the Ministry to support the implementation of government commitments including developing a framework for monitoring and evaluating the extent to which Kenya is meeting its international, regional, and national obligations to end gender-based violence by 2030, as outlined in the National Policy on Gender and Development . Active oversight in the implementation process is essential to ensure that these commitments translate into tangible protection for women, ensuring that policies are effectively executed and monitored.
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR): In its oversight role, KNCHR is urged to employ its mandate effectively to ensure all arms of government adhere to their human rights obligations. By actively promoting, protecting, and preventing violence against women, KNCHR can contribute significantly to holding the government accountable for addressing the root causes and systemic issues that perpetuate such violence. Additionally, we call on KNCHR to investigate the ongoing prevalence of femicide in the country and provide a report detailing the actions that should be taken by different state actors.
Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports: Recognizing the intersectionality of femicide, the Ministry is implored to extend its focus beyond sports and undertake trainings for the youth on gender-based violence, and gender stereotypes that underlie sexual violence and femicide. By championing the cause vocally, the Minister can elevate the discourse, fostering an environment that empowers young women and protects them from violence.
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Digital Economy: Given the increasing prevalence of violence against women in digital spaces, we urge the Ministry to take concrete measures to ensure the safety of women online. This includes robust initiatives such as strengthening the existing laws to address online violence and provide stiffer penalties to counter online predators and create a secure digital environment where women are free from harassment and violence.
Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) and Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI): Recognizing the critical role that these two bodies play, DCI should expedite investigations of all femicide cases and immediately hand over the file to the ODPP for prosecution of these perpetrators.
The Judiciary: As the independent custodian of justice that established specialized SGBV Courts across the country, the Judiciary should expedite the hearing and determination of cases of gender-based violence.
The Media: One of the primary roles of the media is to educate and provide information to the public. While the Coalition commends the media for shining a spotlight on the cases of femicide and other forms of gender-based violence, it notes with concern how the media has played a big role in perpetuating misogyny and sexist stereotype. We call on all media outlets to promote respect for human dignity by applying a survivor-centered approach in their reporting. Additionally, we urge news organizations to ensure that their journalists are well-informed on matters of gender equality and gender-based violence.
The Coalition Against Sexual Violence stands united in demanding immediate and effective action to end femicide and violence against women. We call on the government to prioritize the safety and well-being of women, reaffirming its commitment to the principles of justice, equality, and human rights.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.