By Gatonye Gathura
As Kenyans ponder over the increasing killings of women for love, many females who dared fight back are languishing in jail.
Most of the women jailed for killing their partners in Kenya, claim self-defense or being pushed to the wall by men who could not accept no for an answer.
These are findings in a recent study carried out by the Kenya Prisons Service, the Thailand Institute of Justice and Griffith University, Australia on why women are jailed in Kenya.
The study, “Women’s Pathways to Prison in Kenya” isolated several reasons why women go to prison, top on this being economic crimes followed by love related violence.
Fifteen of the 49 study participants were in jail for crimes of economic necessity and or greed while seven had been locked up for love related violence.
Six of the seven were incarcerated for violent crimes against their intimate partners. However none of the six women had a history of criminal behavior until fate pitted them against the men in their lives.
Women, explains lead author Dr Samantha Jeffries, Senior Lecturer, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, may kill abusive intimate partners as an immediate defense against assault or because they wanted to escape their abuser.
“We had gone out drinking and got back to the house fighting. In the house he came at me with a knife and we got into struggling. I got hold of the knife and somehow stabbed him in the stomach and he died; so here I am,” Doris told the researchers.
But there are those men who are never going to let go like in what happened to Sola.
Sola after a four – year relationship with her boyfriend finally decided to move out but he kept following her. On the fateful day she explains what happened:
“My abusive ex-boyfriend came to my place, forced his way into the house and started beating me. In the heat of the moment I stabbed him with a knife and he died,” she explained why she is serving time in prison.
Dr Jeffries says the period immediately after a woman chooses to leave a violent partner she is at the highest risk of being harmed.
“Separation is a particularly hazardous time for women because it sends a clear message to perpetrators that they are losing power over their victims. Hence it is at this point of separation women are at heightened risk of being killed.”
And then there are those men who did not take no for an answer, for instance in the case of Faith.
Faith was only 17 and in high school when she was arrested for committing murder. In high school, Faith became friends with a boy who started pressuring her for marriage.
Exercising her right to choose, the study says the girl had said no. But this rejection, it is explained had so much enraged the boy who would keep visiting the girl’s home in foul moods.
On the fateful day, Faith tells of how the boy came to her home threatening to kill himself unless she agreed on marriage.
“I refused to marry him and then he started beating me,” said Faith in the study published in the March-April issue of the Women’s Studies International Forum.
Faith explained that the suicidal boy had already taken poison and alcohol before coming to their home.
“He became weak, and then fell down and died. When the police came they said I was the first suspect… they did not believe me. So here I am,” said the girl.
Of the 49 women who participated in the study, almost a third had been jailed for life, 20 per cent for 10 or more years and the rest for between one and nine years.
But not all women reporting violence were just passive bystanders. For example Eunice, who is in for drugs, describes her husband as unfaithful.
“One day I saw him with another woman I beat him up very badly and said I would kill him, I even took a knife,” says Eunice.
Last year there were about 15,221 women in prison, according to the Kenya Economic Survey 2019. The new study shows up to 64 per cent of the women are incarcerated for petty crimes including sale of illicit alcohol.
Due to poverty, low education and little sophistry, the report says most of the interviewed women had not understood what was going on in the courtroom or the cases being made against them.
Despite the ignorance, only those charged with murder were guaranteed a publically funded lawyer while close to 70 per cent of the women had no legal representation.
The authors suggest that the Kenya Prisons Service facilitate women’s access to legal representation through partnerships with relevant NGOs.
The study was carried out in two local jails involving an urban and rural institution each.
NB: Names have been changed to protect real identities.