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Jedidah Wanjiku, 29: 'They need to say that women have feelings, that a bully in the house is not good and women are the same as men.' (Sally Armstrong/Sally Armstrong for The Globe and Mail)
Jedidah Wanjiku, 29: 'They need to say that women have feelings, that a bully in the house is not good and women are the same as men.' (Sally Armstrong/Sally Armstrong for The Globe and Mail)

Marital rape in Africa: The right to say no Add to ...

Still, there will remain complex consequences for a woman who reports violence: She may have to get up at 4 a.m. to get to the court in the city, paying bus fare with her meagre funds. She might not get home until 8 p.m., when the children are hungry and it's too dark to plant the fields. Meanwhile, her case gets postponed over and over.

"No wonder she gives up," recently retired judge Effie Owuor, the grand dame of women's rights in Kenya, said the day she visited ACWHRP. "The social worker is there collecting your children because you aren't at home taking care of them and your man is next door carrying on with the neighbour's wife."

The judge said women could not have access to justice without addressing these issues. "Sexual assault and abuse affect us physically, but also socially and emotionally. It affects families, jobs, the entire country."

ONE GENERATION TO THE NEXT

Kenyan member of Parliament Millie Odhiambo said she knew the reform would be attacked as "not African style." But she added: "Domestic violence used to be a topic no one would talk about. Now, 10 years later, people are being prosecuted left, right and centre."

Ms. White summed up the conundrum. "The issue is about a law that gets into the blankets, the bedroom. We're not criminalizing all men. We're criminalizing the act - and the bad men. It's doable. It's a process we need to negotiate with the general public, hear their views. … Somewhere along the line, we'll get it right."

Back in Kanjuu, one male farmer, 55-year-old Nyaga Mutundu, seemed to have a foot on each side: "In our dialect, the word for marrying a woman is kugura, which means 'buy.' … Women are agitating for change. I'm a modern man and don't think women should be treated badly. But if a man wants sex and she says no, he will rape her. That's how it is in our society. I think the women are using sex as a weapon for change."

However, he added that for the sake of his married daughter, he would obey the law if it was passed.

Even Mr. Kariuki, the adamant town councillor, agreed: "My wife cannot say no to me. But my daughter must be able to say no to her husband."

One afternoon at a public meeting in Nairobi, an audience member asked about backlash. Melanie Randall, a University of Western Ontario law professor who has written at length about the process in 1980s Canada, replied: "They'll say the law has no place in the bedroom, that this law breaks up families and attacks men, that it doesn't value children. Don't let it deter you."



Ten years from now, people will look back at this meeting and say: 'I was in the room that day. The end of marital rape started right here.' Judy Thongori, a family lawyer in Nairobi


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