Par Olanrewaju Eweniyi

Violence against women is common in Kenya. Nearly one in three Kenyan girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18, according to a report by both the government and the United Nations, and 75% of Kenyan children experience physical, sexual or emotional violence, according to the findings of the first nationwide household survey of more than 3,000 young people aged 13 to 24.

Sexual violence – defined as 'sexual touching or attempted sex against the child’s will or coerced or forced sex' – is experienced by 32 percent of Kenyan girls and 18 percent of boys before the age of 18. Almost half of Kenyan women who have ever been married have been physically abused by their husbands, according to government data from 2008/9.

(Photo: AJ+)

Evidently, there is a culture of pervasive and insidious violence against women that afflicts the entire country - and the continent. The sexual violence statistics for Africa, as a whole, are even worse.

But Kenya is taking new steps to stop the spread of toxic masculinity and assault against the female gender. Schoolboys in Kenya are learning how to defend girls against sexual assault. Collins Omondi, the coordinator of a program called 'No Means No Worldwide', run by the charity Ujamaa Africa, teaches adolescent boys to stand up against violence toward women. 

"Our main focus on the curriculum is positive masculinity for the boys, positive empowerment, and actually making them gentlemen on issues to do with the prevention of rape and standing up for the rights of women," he said.

“If they say the boys are actually the problem, we the boys can actually be part of the solution”

Researchers from Stanford University, University of Nairobi and United States International University-Africa have found the training to be highly effective in improving attitudes toward women and increasing the likelihood of successful intervention. The successful intervention rate of boys that go through the training when witnessing physical or sexual assault also went up by 185%, from 26% to 74%, according to their study to be published later this year in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Interventions in verbal harassment also increased, and rape by boyfriends and friends of girls in schools where 'No Means No Worldwide' operates dropped by 20 percent, from 61 to 49 percent, the researchers said.

The program also runs vocal and physical training for girls; and is expanding internationally.

According to Ujamaa's data, many of the schoolboys start out with very negative attitudes toward women, the trainers found, believing that it is legitimate to rape girls who they take on expensive dates or who are out after dark. Before the class, more than 80 percent of boys said that girls wearing miniskirts were inviting boys to have sex with them. Afterwards, it dropped to 30 percent.

Every secondary school child in Nairobi – some 130,000 students – will undergo the six-week program by the end of 2018 with funding from the British government, which is focusing aid on finding out what works to prevent violence against women.

(Source: GIPHY)