Dear men, why is sexual harassment still a thing?

Open letter to uncivilized Nairobi men

I was going home from work the other day and when I got to the stage where I connect from Kawangware to my house, I was astounded by what was unfolding. Actually, no. I wasn’t surprised. The touts at the bus stop were hassling a woman to enter their respective matatus, yanking her arms and almost causing her handbag to fall on the ground and her top to come undone. Eventually other touts intervened and told him to leave her alone. She wasn’t shaken up. She readjusted herself and entered the matatu she wanted. Life moved on. I couldn’t.

Because less than a year ago, the same thing happened to me. I was at the stage about to board a bus when a man grabbed my hand to stop me and tried to make me board the one he was charged with. I tried to yank my arm free only for the other one to be grabbed by another one. I cursed, screamed and eventually had to stomp my feet on one of them while knocking the other one with my back pack. I was so angry I decided to walk home.

This is not something that would surprise most women in Nairobi. Apart from the endless hassling at bus stops, there’s the ubiquitous men whose life’s mission seems to be just harassing women. They call us names, say lewd things, make lewd signs or make comments. One man in particular followed me from a fish and chips joint begging me to give him some of my fries. But considering the part of my anatomy he was leering at, I have a feeling he may have thought he was using a euphemism.

These men don’t just stop there. They wolf whistle, comment on the colour of your skin, your hair- anything is fair game to them really- and when you ignore them, they insult you.

“Kwani unadhani wewe ni nani?”

“Ata huna sura.”

They grope women in matatus. Others become grabby with whatever they can get their hands on. One time while I was boarding a bus, a drunken man leaning against the railing. As I walked up the steps, he ran his hands along my calves. I complained loud enough and the conductor was forced to throw him off the bus.

Women go through these attacks when they’re running errands in town, simply hanging out with their friends. Whatever the situation, some fellows see this as an opportunity to hassle them. I’ve heard accounts of women being heckled because of their outfits.

“Sasa hizi ni nini umevaa?”

They come and grope women. When you reject them and tell them off.

“Ai mama, sasa mbona unaringa?”

When they act like they’re God’s answer to who would be Kenya’s next Bond (and they’re not) and tell you that you’re beautiful and you ignore them,

“Mbona unaringia salamu? Unadhani wewe ni nani?”

“Mbona kuboeka hivyo? Si usmile tu.”

“Vita ni ya nini, nakuappreciate tu.”

When they submit their overtures and you ignore or insult them.

“Unajifanya aje na hizo zako ata si za KCC.”

“Vile umevaa ni kama unaenda club si ujiachilie tu.”

“Unaringa unadhani yako imeundwa na pesa.”

Why is it so hard for you to let me be? Why is it so hard for you to respect my boundaries? Why is it so hard for you to respect me? And if respect is too much effort to put forth, why do you find it necessary to try to make it as uncomfortable as possible? Why do you not call out your friends who do this? Why do you blame my legs, my butt, and my breasts yet when I am covered from head to toe, you still do the same thing?

Why do you call women with boundaries uptight? Why do you call women with strong opinions mean? Why do call women who have to shout to be heard shrill? Why do you call passionate women hysterical? Why do you call women who reject your propositions bitter? Why do you normalize sexual violence? Why do you blame me for it? Why do you condone it?

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