Kenya, a country so loved by tourists for its beautiful tropical weather, spectacular coastline, and gorgeous wildlife sceneries, is also known for its impressive array of globally renowned athletes — athletes who have wowed the world again and again with their accolades in track and field internationally.
One such national jewel was long-distance World Athletics Championships medallist, Agnes Tirop. But on Oct. 13, 2021, Tirop, aged 25, was found dead at her home in Iten after she was allegedly stabbed by her husband, who was reported to have phoned his family, “crying and asking for God’s forgiveness for something he had done” following the incident. Ibrahim Rotich, Tirop’s husband and prime suspect in her murder case, pleaded not guilty to the allegations on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.
Women and girls around the world experience some form of violence on a daily basis, with some meeting a similar fate to Tirop.
Women’s rights are human rights, and they must be protected at all costs. Their rights to safety and autonomy need to be prioritised in order for the world to achieve gender equality. This year marks 30 years of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) — a campaign which runs from Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
This 16 Days, we’re asking Global Citizens to join us in standing up and fighting for women’s health and rights. Join our 16 Days Challenge and start taking an action every day to learn more about women’s rights, bodily autonomy, and gender violence online.
According to the most recent report from Kenya’s demographic health survey published in 2014, 45% of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence — where 41% lived with active violence by intimate partners that year.
Women and girls are the most affected by GBV, as globally, 1 in 3 women will face some form of GBV within her lifetime. Due to fear, threats, and intimidation by abusive partners or non-partners, only a few speak out or report their ordeal. The situation worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as in most countries, including Kenya, there was an increase in cases of violence against women and girls under mandated national lockdowns.
To eradicate GBV and to amplify the voices of victims, public figures, activists, and athletes have been using their voices to stand up against the horrific phenomenon. Below, we're highlighting six Kenyans who have spoken up about the violence endured by women and girls on the continent, especially following the country’s loss of Agnes Tirop.
1. Joan Chelimo, Long-Distance Runner
In a recent interview with OTB Sports, Joan Chelimo, a Kenyan runner and long-time friend of Tirop’s, shared her sentiments after Tirop’s passing.
“You could not read anything from her [Tirop] face,” said Chelimo, who was referring to not being able to determine that her friend was a victim of GBV. "She could not talk to anyone about what she was going through. That's why we have set up Tirop's Angels,” said Chelimo.
She added: "With Tirop's Angels we have promised ourselves [that] what happened to her will never happen again, and this is why we have created the movement. This is not only about athletes or about Kenya. It is about every part of the world.”
Chelimo also touched on the need to “educate young boys that this isn't OK,” build safe spaces for all, leave toxic relationships, and create opportunities for people to freely talk about their mental health.
2. Agnes Odhiambo, Human Rights Activist
Stop the senseless killings of Kenyan women & girls!— Agnes Odhiambo (@AgnesOdhiambo) October 25, 2021
The murder this month of Agnes Tirop, a world athletics champion, adds to a long list of women who've been killed by men in Kenya. Justice has been elusive for many of them. Is the President listening?https://t.co/tf2cSZ02lcpic.twitter.com/EM0ONTeSOF
Agnes Odhiambo is a senior researcher with the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch in Nairobi, where she investigates violations of women’s rights in sub-Saharan Africa
Odhiambo sees Tirop’s death as a reflection of the “big number of women who are murdered and killed” in Kenya every day.
“Violence against women and girls in Kenya is of pandemic proportions,” she told the New York Times.
According to Odhiambo, in the same New York Times article, authorities in Kenya have yet to commit to help abused women obtain medical treatment on time, seek protection in shelters, or even access vital life-saving services. She went on to urge top officials to regularly hold government institutions answerable for their every action.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “the legal responsibility lies with the Kenyan government to prevent the killing, the rape, the beating, and the harassment of women.”
In June 2021, the government of Kenya committed to a five-year plan to end GBV, activists like Odhiambo, though optimistic, are still skeptical of this plan based on the government turning a “blind eye” and “failing to protect women and girls against violence” in the past.
3. Violah Cheptoo Lagat, Olympic Athlete
During Agnes Tirop’s funeral, Cheptoo Lagat, a World Championship and Olympic middle-distance runner, spoke out by saying: “I am standing here because something has to be done.”
She continued: “We are putting our sister to rest, but we are here to also raise our voices. We need to be heard as women. We need people to understand we are not tools. We are not anyone’s property.”
4. Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya, Educator and Human Rights Activist
Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya is the founder and president of Kakenya’s Dream, an organization that helps to enlighten young girls about traditional practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya also strongly believes that sports is an important instrument in ending GBV.
“Sports is very important to be used as a venue to address issues of gender-based violence," she said in an exclusive interview with GameYetu. “I have seen this work in schools where you bring two teams — boys and girls — and they focus on one thing and it is a place of open conversations creating a space where we can share out what affects girls, what affects boys.”
She added: “Sports is as important and I think it is one common place where we all understand football and at the end of the day, we can have conversations on such topics that affect women and girls.”
Kakenya was named one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World” in 2011 and was counted among the Women Deliver 100: The Most Inspiring People Delivering for Girls and Women.
5. Lupita Nyong'o, International Filmmaker and Actress
Actress Lupita Nyong'o mourned the gruesome murder of Agnes Tirop. “On this #MashujaaDay, I’m honoring Agnes Tirop. Just months ago, we celebrated Agnes as she represented Kenya at the Olympics. Now, we tragically mourn her utterly senseless death,” she tweeted.
Lupita Nyong’o is also among a long list of Hollywood actresses that have openly accused former film director, Harvey Weinstein, of sexual harassment.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, the Oscar-winning actress admitted that the movie industry is “complicated” as it relies on intimacy for relationship-building.
“As actors we are paid to do very intimate things in public,” she said. “That’s why someone can have the audacity to invite you to their home or hotel and you show up. Precisely because of this we must stay vigilant and ensure that professional intimacy is not abused.”
Nyong’o believes many women in the industry don’t speak up because of fear of being labeled and characterized by their moment of “powerlessness.”
She concludes: “Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.”
6. Josephine Kulea, Women’s Rights Activist
Josephine Kulea is a Kenyan women's rights campaigner and founder of Samburu Girls Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps to rescue girls from child marriage, beating, and FGM. As a child, she escaped child marriage and FGM with the help of her mother, who prioritized her education.
Her foundation has rescued more than 1,000 girls from child marriage and FGM. Because her foundation seeks to eliminate and educate young girls about long-held harmful traditional practices, elders in her community see her as a thorn in the cultural norms. Despite this, in 2011 she was recognized as an "unsung heroine" by former US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger.
In a 2017 interview with BBC News Africa, she explained the sad ordeal of girls being married off at a very young age.
“You can marry an 8-year-old girl and expect her to behave like a wife or mother? And when these girls go and play with their age mate, they are beaten by their husbands who expect them to behave like mothers,” she said. “We [the foundation] give them counselling, we give them shelter’ and we make people know that “no matter who you are, you are not above the law,” she said.
Women’s rights are human rights — and they must be promoted and protected. This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, we’re asking Global Citizens to join us for our #16Days Challenge, to take a simple action each day that will help you learn more about women’s rights, bodily autonomy, and gender violence online.
You’ll start important conversations with your loved ones, advocate on social media for women’s and girls’ right to their own bodies, support women-owned businesses in your community, sign petitions to support bodily autonomy, and more. Find out more about the #16Days Challenge and start taking action here.