Gender equality and sexual assault conditions in Kenya have been forced into the spotlight after word spread that six men responsible for gang raping a 16-year-old girl in June were told by police officers to mow a lawn as their “punishment.” For the cost of what might have simply been an unwelcome chore to the rest of us, these convicted rapists were essentially absolved of the brutal act that stole a teenaged girl’s innocence.
#JusticeforLiz is the hashtag being tweeted around the activist community, mobilizing men and women to call for an end to rape and police impunity in Nigeria. Campaign organizers are also using Liz’s story to put a face to this country-wide problem and pressure Kenyan authorities to issue a punishment for these six men that actually fits their heinous crime.
In this flashy and, at times, T.M.I. internet age, it is sometimes easy to forget that social media can be a powerful tool for change. Few knew about Liz’s story until one journalist from a Kenyan newspaper received a news tip and went to her family’s house to investigate the issue further. A couple clicks later the story was published, along with an online petition. The story was subsequently picked up by an online activist website that also spread the word and passed it along to the writers at Buzzfeed. From there, the campaign tumbled through various social media channels, gaining momentum and donations from people in all parts of the world. According to BuzzFeed writers, about $8,200 has already been raised to help pay for Liz’s hospital bills, who is now “wheelchair-bound and developed obstetric fistula, a condition that affects her bowels, as a result of the rape.”
Perhaps more important than the international attention this incident has received may be the fact that it is resonating so powerfully within the Nigerian community, especially in the rural areas. Like so many other developing countries recently involved in discussions about gender and other human rights-related issues, Kenya is just scratching the surface. However, it is important to note that the emergence of this movement came from within Kenya; from the mouths of people who are part of this culture and have the most to gain from a more tolerant society.
A petition detailing their frustration with the lack of responsibility surrounding Kenya’s rape laws and the questionable authority of its law enforcement was presented to officials on Thursday to the cheers of around 300 men and women who marched in Nairobi for the cause. Now backed by millions, this example of leadership on behalf of women and gender equality in Kenya is said to be unprecedented.
Excerpt taken from the petition delivered to Kenya's Inspector General of Police:
“We call on you to deliver justice for Liz including the immediate arrest and prosecution of her rapists and full disciplinary action for the police officers who dismally failed to handle her case. By holding these police officers to account you will send a strong message to police everywhere that rape is not a misdemeanour, it is a serious crime, and if police do not uphold the law they will be held to account. We call on you to ensure Liz's case is a turning point to end the war on girls.”By Sabrina Willard