I was out of the country when the videos on women being stripped in various areas of Nairobi went viral. I did not get to watch the videos until November 24th 2014 when I returned. What I saw horrified me. As women went about protesting at various locations in the world I felt that something was missing. The stripping of women has little to do with the notion that a man may have about indecent dressing. That is just what those men say to try and give credence to their actions. I am reminded of the campaign that was going around about what causes rape:- it is not indecently dressed women. It is rapists.
One of the issues that I feel was not addressed by the #MyDressMyChoice campaign was the origin of the behaviour of stripping women in public. In the 90s in Kenya, thieves found a very efficient way of robbing people in Nairobi, they would strip you then leave you trying to cover up you nakedness while they made off with your wallet, watch, phone and anything else they though was valuable. This usually happened to men.
The practise died away with time. Seeing the nakedness of a woman, especially if the woman is older is considered a curse in many traditional Kenyan cultures and most men would hesitate to strip a woman in public. Indeed, the late Wangari Maathai in desperation called together women and they stripped to spite the government and drive them to make a decision not to sell out a public park to a private developer.
So why then would men go on rampage and strip women in public, exposing them to ridicule shame and embarrassment? My answer is spite, disrespect and inability to come to terms with the independent woman. It starts with small comments. There is a woman who was stripped and molested on a bus as she was heading home. As we were discussing the issue, one man asked why the woman was travelling at night. I was shocked at the question, I leave work late sometime even 9 pm and I use public transport, that does not mean I should be exposed to such barbaric behaviour.
Respect for women is still wanting in many areas in Kenya. Some men still use very vulgar language when addressing or referring to women around them. Some men still beat their wives and partners in public saying that this is a form of discipline. Women who do not fit the mould of what some men feel is a perfect woman are still referred to as prostitutes. Women who work hard to get their money are still ridiculed and viewed as un-feminine and are called all manner of names in an effort to ‘cut them down to size’. Snide remarks are dished out by men especially those who have not come to terms with the fact that women are not a lesser sex but their equals.
It’s the small steps that make the whole difference. For women, I urge us to speak out more against the disrespectful behaviour. Let us not support the excuses that men try to bring out for their unacceptable behaviour, rather let us reiterate the truth; people who perpetrate disrespectful behaviour towards women are uncultured, barbaric and lacking in social skills. They should be locked up away from the rest of the society.