Decapitated and dismembered: in Kenya, the sordid murder in January of Rita Waeni, a 20-year-old student, was an electric shock in this East African country, where femicide and gender-based and sexual violence are often silent. “Stop killing us,” thousands of people, mostly women, chanted on January 27 during a “march against femicide” in Nairobi, the capital. “I’ve never been to a protest, but I felt compelled to come and fight for this. (…) Absolutely nothing justifies the murder of a woman,” explained Beatrice Obiero, a 34-year-old engineering student.

In 2022, Kenya recorded 725 feminicides, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the highest number since such data began tracking in 2015. Earlier this year, Human rights organizations have urged authorities to treat the women’s killings as a “national disaster.”

That of Rita Waeni is one of sixteen feminicides recorded in Kenya in the month of January alone. Parts of his body were thrown into a trash bin and his head was found eight days later in a dam on the outskirts of Nairobi. “This is the first time in my career as a forensic pathologist that I have encountered such a case,” head of forensic operations Johansen Oduor told reporters.

For many Kenyan women, gender-based violence has long been a reality. Njeri Migwi founded Usikimye (“Don’t stay silent”, in Swahili), a shelter for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, in 2019, after having herself fled an abusive husband, whose beatings left her partially deaf. “I fled because (…) staying meant I was going to die,” she told AFP.

” Lack of means “

In 2023, one of the female refugees in Usikimye was “stabbed to death” by her former partner while returning home to collect personal documents, says Njeri Migwi. In Kenya, nearly 75% of femicides are committed by partners and parents, 15% by strangers, according to a report published in January by Kenyan statistics company OdipoDev.

But the scale of the phenomenon remains largely underestimated, according to Njeri Migwi, because many cases are not documented. And the silence of political leaders and religious leaders on the subject does not help, she believes. Women also face cultural difficulties. In her Kikuyu community, the largest in the country, the wife is called “mutumia” (“the silent one”). “We’re not supposed to speak out because it shames the community,” she emphasizes.

Women’s rights activists deplore a tendency to blame victims. After Rita Waeni’s murder, social media posts accused her of “dating for money” and questioned her fashion choices and lifestyle.

In 2022, the Kenyan government established a special court to handle cases of sexual and gender-based violence, a year after the national police opened centers dedicated to reporting such acts. Despite this system, it takes on average 1,900 days, or more than five years, before a femicide suspect is convicted, according to OdipoDev.

For Eric Theuri, president of the professional association of lawyers Law Society of Kenya, the country does not suffer from an insufficient legislative arsenal but rather from a “lack of resources”. For victims, the way they view gender-based and sexual violence must also change. When Béatrice Obiero reported an incident involving an abusive ex-boyfriend two years ago, police told her to “find a solution” on her own, she laments. Her complaint was officially registered, “but nothing came of it.”

Faced with the outcry over the murder of Rita Waeni and the mobilization of January 27, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations pledged to “diligently accelerate investigations into serious sexual offenses and murders involving women [and to] end the worrying trend of femicide in the country,” in a statement Tuesday. “We must put an end to this threat,” said Director of Criminal Investigations Mohamed Amin. A statement well received by Beatrice Obiero, who nevertheless expects concrete “actions”.