“Dark Valentine” protests across Kenya against gender-based violence 

By Rosie Jones 

On 14 February this year, Kenyan women’s rights campaigners called “Dark Valentine” vigils across the country to mark the lives lost to femicide and to demand urgent action. The vigils were sparked by the murder of the young Nairobi woman, Rita Waeni, who was brutally killed in a short-term rental apartment in the capital. The 20-year-old student’s murder has left the country shocked and horrified, sparking an outraged call to end gender-based violence and demand justice for all the recent victims.

Since the start of this year, 16 women and girls have been killed by men’s violence in Kenya. One of the women who was commemorated at the vigil was Grace Wangari Thuiya, a 24-year-old beautician who was assaulted and killed by her boyfriend in January. Protests were organised in cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Lodwar, and Nyeri. Twenty thousand women and men went onto the streets in the largest protests against gender-based violence, femicide and gender oppression the country has ever seen. 

Anti-feminist reaction 

Demonstrators marched through the streets of Nairobi chanting “Stop Killing Women”. Signs prominently decorated the crowd stating, “Being a woman should not be a death sentence”

and “Women’s Lives Matter”. Protestors called for the Kenyan government to recognise femicide as a national crisis and put an end to the epidemic of gender-based violence. The protest demands were extended to recognise the violence facing transgender, non-binary and queer people also. 

This inspiring multi-gendered movement faced an online right-wing backlash with claims that the surge of feminist protests has left men feeling emasculated by challenging the “promise of patriarchy”. This kind of reaction is a reflection of the international deepening of anti-feminist and sexist ideology, promoted among young men by misogynistic figures such as Andrew Tate. The worsening conditions of the capitalist crisis are laying fertile ground for polarised divisions of society. 

“Not monsters, but sons of the patriarchy”

Between 2016 and 2023, there have been at least 546 victims of femicide in Kenya. This tragic injustice is usually turned into sensationalist media coverage with victim blaming myths and ‘stranger danger’ fear-mongering. In reality, 371 of the 546 women were killed by an intimate partner. The sister of 22-year-old Italian femicide victim Giulia Cecchettin, who was tragically murdered by her boyfriend, bravely remarked “A monster is an exception, a person who’s outside society, a person for whom society doesn’t need to take responsibility, but there is responsibility… Monsters aren’t sick, they are healthy sons of the patriarchy and rape culture. For Giulia, don’t hold a minute of silence, but burn it all down.” 

This statement stresses the need for mass socialist feminist struggle against the patriarchal capitalist system to completely transform society and get rid of its horrific embedded ideas of supremacy and violence. It is crucial to act this International Women’s Day, to struggle against men’s violence and imperialist violence so acutely reflected in Gaza right now and to forge a socialist feminist path towards true liberation for all.  

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