“I already knew. I just didn’t know how to tell you,” Mercy solemnly tells her counsellor in the short film by the same name.
In that dialogue, Mercy, played by Tana Gachoka is talking about how she contracted HIV/Aids; through a rape incident when she was 15.
The timely film which launched on the Eve of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), “Unite: Activism to end violence against both girls and boys”, does not beg for sympathy, it strives for change.
The scriptwriter, 21-year-old Georgia Fernandes, expressed that she hopes that everyone who watches the short film will see how one wrong decision can affect multiple lives. “I think what is powerful about this story is that despite all Mercy is going through, she wants to help others. Her mother has HIV and is bed-ridden, and before the ‘accident’ Mercy wanted to do everything she could to study hard and ‘be like one of those doctors who helped her mother relieve her pain’,” says
However even as we usher in the 16 Days of Activism, rape survivor and radio personality Adelle Onyango feels that many people are not outraged by sexual violence. At least not angry enough to shout against it.
“We aren’t angry at the perpetrators roaming free. We are not angry that medical systems aren’t accessible. We aren’t angry that the police are not sensitised in handling cases of sexual violence so they end up re-traumatizing survivors. We are not angry that a very small percentage of cases that end up in court, end up with justice being served.”
Many people, in her opinion, speak out against GBV because of the shame that comes with not speaking about it. “So on 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, you will post and retweet messages of solidarity not because you’re angry. Not because you recognise that this is wrong and it should not be happening, but because you are avoiding the shame that comes with silence.”
Many will recall the public outcry brought about four years ago when 24-year-old Lucy Njambi Ndung’u, died after she was attacked, raped and doused with acid, sustaining 75 per cent burns. On the night of the ordeal, she had been picked by her husband who was in the company of other unidentified men, from her apartment. Many suspect that the husband, former Riruta MCA Samuel Ndung’u orchestrated the ordeal after details came out that they were having marital issues. We are yet to hear of the court’s verdict on this case.
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In addition, as shown in the film perpetrators belong to communities, social settings, families, workspaces, and friends. In the case of the film, the perpetrator was a friend of Mercy’s father, a role played by Keith Chuaga.
Lest we forget, perpetrators here are not only those who inflict violence but also those who shame survivors and are apologists for perpetrators. “You know them, you perhaps interact with them. But you’re not willing to sit with the discomfort of calling out their behaviours,” said Adelle.
Adelle was quick to remind us that at the moment where you choose silence, you forget what matters, and who matters. “You forget those important stories.”
Speaking of stories, she has for a long time felt anxiety in the days leading to the 16 Days of Activism. “I’m always wondering which big NGOs will use my story this time.” “I say ‘use’ because from experience, during this time, I join other survivors in reminding you of our stories, of why we matter and why we need your voices too. Because in doing that, it means I’m essentially teaching you to see me as a human worthy of safety, dignity and justice. It’s an exercise in futility and it’s dehumanising.”
Not to mention the re-traumatising that comes with survivors not being able to have their real voices heard in terms of what needs to change. A good example is a need for change in policies that will have perpetrators behind bars, or the police being sensitised in handling cases of sexual violence.
Moreso, on the 17th day silence, ensues, an indication that all the shouting and activism was only for the 16 days, yet in essence, activism against GBV should be a daily event in all the spaces we occupy regardless of gender. It should be like breathing air, natural yet essential.
In the making of the film, Georgia and fellow scriptwriter Zippy Kimundu, over the past year, spoke to Ruth Adhiambo, headmistress of a small school that my mum and her foundation built in the Githogoro slum.
Ruth also served as a ‘therapist’ for many young girls who have been raped and she shared some of those experiences with me, in the hope that we can raise awareness and curb the number of rapes across the country.
Those experiences told to Georgia helped shape the story of courage that young Kenyan girls show. “These stories should not be kept secret and instead be shared with the world. My hope for this film is that it would launch the ‘Think Twice Movement,’ which would push for men to ‘Think Twice’ before they even touch a girl.”
“As a woman, I am also pretty tired of constantly seeing men in the main spotlight in all films- as the hero. I want everyone to see women in a new light- and for once instead of constantly portraying them as wives and mothers- portray them as many are: CEOs, MDs, Police, Special Agents, Athletes, Doctors, and so much more.”
GBV in marriage can be choked to social conditioning. According to sociologist Ken Ouko, African woman has been socialised to stick it out in a marriage. This is the reason many choose to stay in verbally, emotionally and physically abusive relationships.
There are however some steps in the right direction with the Ministry of Public Service and Gender putting in place a 24-hour GBV hotline where victims and others can report cases of GBV.