As deaths rise, women rise up and demand an end to femicide

At least 21 women were killed last month, yet many still blame victims

In Summary

• Men unconcerned by the rising femicides or even justifying them have sparked ire

• Rights groups recently organised protests countrywide, led by Usikimye 

Protesters in Nairobi were critical of the government, which they believe has failed to protect women
Protesters in Nairobi were critical of the government, which they believe has failed to protect women

After living in Belgium for eight years, Julie Muthoni decided to return home to Kenya in September 2014 and was excited to set up a new life there. Two years later, her lifeless body was lying on a cold slab in a morgue in Nairobi.

Muthoni had been dumped at a hospital, alive but barely breathing, by an ex-boyfriend. Staff called her mother, Connie Muuru, who rushed to be with her, but it was too late. Muthoni, whom Muuru affectionately called Sharon, had already died by the time she arrived.

Muuru told openDemocracy that her daughter had been physically abused by her ex-boyfriend, who relied on her financially. When she tried to leave, he trapped her in the apartment they shared for two weeks and repeatedly assaulted her.

“When I saw my daughter’s casket being lowered into the ground, the sorrow and helplessness that engulfed me is something I can never wish on anyone,” she said. “We have never accepted that Sharon really left us.”

Muthoni’s tragic murder is part of an alarming surge in femicides in Kenya.

Twenty-one women in the East African country were killed by men in January alone, according to Usikimye, a non-profit organisation that campaigns against sexual and gender-based violence.

Three-quarters of Kenya’s femicide victims are killed by their partners or exes, compared to 15 per cent who are killed by strangers, according to Africa Data Hub, which looked into the deaths of 546 women in the country between 2016 and 2023.

As the deaths spiralled, more than 10,000 outraged Kenyan women took to the streets across the country last weekend to demand an end to femicide.


Coordinated by Usikimye and other women’s rights groups, protests took place in Nairobi, Turkana, Kisumu, Mombasa and other towns, with women further motivated by reports of men who have been unconcerned by the rising femicides or have even justified them.

The protests led Director of Criminal Investigations Mohamed Amin to establish a special unit to speed up investigations of femicide cases. Announcing the unit this week, Amin said that only 94 deaths of women and girls had been reported to the police in three years, with 65 suspects arraigned in court.

But campaigners believe the new unit will not be enough, saying attitudes within police forces and Parliament must change if femicides are to be stopped.

Usikimye CEO Njeri Migwi told openDemocracy she was met with indifference from Nairobi’s police when she requested a permit for the protest in the capital.

Though a permit was eventually granted, officers initially did not see why femicide should be given special focus, Migwi said. Instead, they blamed women “for going to Airbnbs” with strangers.

Politicians have also been accused of victim-blaming. Nominated Senator Tabitha Mutinda ignited rage last month when she suggested that young women are being killed due to an obsession with money that is leading them to meet strangers whom they think will finance their expensive lifestyles.

Responding to Mutinda’s comments, Audrey Mugeni, a co-founder of Femicide Count Kenya, an organisation that campaigns for an end to femicide, said: “It’s very sad that one of our women leaders has no inkling of what the real issue is or the root cause of violence against women and girls.

“She can’t lead us with an attitude that enables misogyny and power imbalances.”

But Mutinda is not alone in her views. Another MP, Sabina Chege, linked young women’s finances to femicides in an interview with the Star this week.

“Counselling, mentorship and girls accepting that you can’t start from the top is a start to reducing femicide cases. What comes easy goes easy. Girls need to know how to work hard. There is no free money in this world,” Chege said.

At least 21 women were killed in Kenya last month, sparking fear and leading to widespread protests
At least 21 women were killed in Kenya last month, sparking fear and leading to widespread protests


Not all legislators agree, though. Kirinyaga Woman Representative Njeri Maina believes judicial and administrative governance has failed women, leaving them vulnerable to abuse. She said laws protecting women exist but there is a disconnect when it comes to implementation, especially by the police.

“The crucial work of having deterrent measures in place is lacking and as a society, we have normalised violence against women,” Maina told openDemocracy. “We need men in this fight, too, because what is happening is a crime.”

Femicides are occurring at a higher rate than is being recorded, said Mugeni of Femicide Count Kenya, explaining that cultural, traditional and religious barriers are preventing the reporting of many femicides.

In some communities, a man killing his wife may be resolved privately by the families, without the involvement of the police. The woman’s family may suggest the man makes a payment to ‘compensate’ them, for example, or that he should merely be banished from the community.

Those femicides that are reported to police are also often incorrectly categorised as homicides, according to Wanjiku Thiga, the founder of the Gears for Change Initiative, an organisation that lobbies for community development.

She believes this is hindering the creation of effective policies for tackling femicides, as the scope and nature of women’s deaths are not clear.

“Femicide must be classified on its own and women protected against intimate partner violence and perpetrators held to account,” said Thiga, who unsuccessfully ran for MCA in the 2022 general election.


While she admits that further change is needed, legislator Maina believes some steps are being taken by those in power to stop femicides.

She said the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF), a semi-autonomous government agency set up to redress past disadvantages for vulnerable groups, is working to establish GBV desks with specially trained officers at every police station in Kenya.

This was echoed by Roy Sasaka, NGAAF’s CEO. “We want to not just minimise but end violence against women and achieve generational equity,” she said.

“In the unfortunate incident that women’s safety is endangered, we are making sure that they have spaces where they can access counselling, shelter and an environment to heal.

“We have more than 10 ongoing shelter projects in different counties, and the Nairobi safe house is almost complete.”

But many women feel action is not happening quickly enough. They believe the government is failing to protect them, with President William Ruto’s silence on the rise in femicides last month seen as dismissive.

The discontent was obvious at the march in the capital last week, when protestors objected to Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris’s attempt to address them.

Passaris has been working closely with the NGAAF and the Nairobi governor to establish a safe house for survivors of GBV, which, as Sasaka said, is almost ready to open. She has also urged the Treasury to release funding for nine more centres.

But the women, either unaware of this or feeling it does not make up for a wider lack of government intervention, shouted her down, chanting: “Where were you?”

Muuru’s experience with the judicial system shows there is still a long way to go in tackling femicides. After the burial of her daughter, Muuru reported the ex-boyfriend to the police. She said officers frustrated her at every turn and did not act on any information she gave.

Eventually, she became fed up, depressed, and worried she was neglecting her other children. So, she stopped trying to get justice. Muthoni’s killer still roams free.

10,000 women in cities across Kenya took to the streets to protest a rise in femicides
10,000 women in cities across Kenya took to the streets to protest a rise in femicides
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