Slashing grass as punishment for rape!
By Sally Chiwama
WOMEN from all over African and human rights organisations recently protested in the streets of Nairobi to press for the arrest and prosecution of six suspects who allegedly gang-raped a 16-year-old girl and later dumped her in a pit latrine.
The women who were mobilized by the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), UniTE for African Women and the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) walked from Uhuru Park to the office of the Inspector General of Police at Jogoo House and presented a petition that was signed by more than 1,200,000 people globally.
The women presented a petition to the Chief of Staff William Thwere Okelo who received it on behalf of the Inspector General of Police Mr David Kismayo. In the petition, the women demanded the immediate arrest and prosecution of the alleged perpetrators, that the state covers all expenses incurred towards the survivor’s post-rape care, and the immediate dismissal of the police who mishandled the case.
The women also demanded the establishment of a gender response unit in the police force, and the proper and timely handling of the gender-based violence cases.
In receiving the petition, Mr Okelo assured members of the public that investigations had been instituted and that the culprits would soon be brought to book.
“The case is going on and at an advanced stage. We are also aware that the culprits are at large but we are looking for them wherever they are,” Mr Okelo said.
He also promised to meet the women’s movement to map a way forward on the case.
Mr Okelo also admitted that there were some small failures on the part of the police and that action would be taken on those police officers that would be found wanting.
The 16-year-old who has since been given a pseudonym “Liz” by the women’s organisations was gang-raped and left for dead by six boys four months ago and the known suspects are on the run.
She identified three of her attackers but when they were apprehended, the police punished them by asking them to slash grass around the police station.
This then enraged the women’s organisations that have since been pressing the authorities to take appropriate action on the perpetrators, saying that there is no way a man that rapes a woman can be given a punishment of slashing grass.
As a result of the rape, Liz sustained a spinal injury and is confined to a wheel-chair.
She also developed obstetric fistula, making her unable to control her urine and stool.
AfricaUNIte, an umbrella body of organisations that fight to end violence against women, COVAW, FEMNET and Youth Deliver led the protest.
The Ministry of Devolution and Planning in which the Gender Department falls, also expressed concern that a pattern had developed on violence against women and girls in the country.
Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru said “We wish to emphasise our great conviction as a ministry responsible and great resolve to end violence against women and girls and or indeed any other person in the country.
Violence cannot be tolerated in any form, in any context and in any circumstance either in private or in public sphere”.
Ms Waiguru called for a speedy conclusion of the case.
“Liz” was walking home from her grandfather’s funeral in Busia on June 24 when she was ambushed by six young men who took turns in raping her and in an attempt to conceal the crime, threw her unconscious body in a six-meter deep pit latrine.
The case was reported to police in Busia county after she was removed from the latrine the next day. Liz identified three of the suspects who were apprehended but were only asked to slash grass as punishment.
Even though Zambia has an anti-gender violence Act in place, the situation is not different from the Kenyan one as women and girls of all ages are defiled or raped.
Some cases go unreported and perpetrators go scot-free. Gender activist Sara Longwe who was at the march in Kenya draws comparison between the case in Kenya and many similar ones in Zambia. “We have many such cases, and they come in different forms. We even have threats of gang-rape by known political parties on female politicians, nothing tangible happened to the perpetrators of that crime as they were given a light sentences in form of a fine and suspended sentence” said Ms Longwe.
She also referred to the case of a woman from Lusaka’s Chaisa who died in police custody in 2007 where she was supposed to be protected. The case is still pending and the inquest has since been stopped.
Ms Longwe says there are many such cases and that many go unreported.
As the country heads towards celebrating the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, Ms Longwe is urging the women’s movement in Zambia to dig up all the pending sexual crimes and highlight and present a similar petition to the authorities.
“We need to see the laws of the country work, we have the Sexual Offences Act but it’s just gathering dust. We are not asking for new laws, we are simply asking that they enforce the laws that are already there,” she said.
Ms Longwe also advises communities to utilise on-site policing such as the citizens’ arrest, which she says is a key strategy that is being underutilised and left to the mobs.
Recently the Zambian government enacted an anti-gender violence Act to provide for the protection of victims of gender-based violence; constitute the anti-gender-based violence committee; establish the anti-gender-based violence fund; and provide for matters connected with, or incidental to, the foregoing.
As the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence draw near, there is need for massive awareness and action on the multi-faceted intersections of gender-based violence.
The theme for this year is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World, Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!”