Angered by assault, women take to Nairobi streets in 'miniskirt protest'

In an unusually public protest, 1,000 women danced, sang, and chanted 'my dress my choice' and 'shame, shame' on Monday after a woman was stripped naked earlier this month by men who disapproved of her clothing. 

Ben Curtis/AP
Kenyan women protested for the right to wear whatever clothes they want at a demonstration in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, Nov. 17, 2014.

Kenyan women on Monday demonstrated against increasing violence against girls and women, as the country begins to confront an attack in downtown Nairobi where a woman wearing a miniskirt was stripped naked.

Some 1,000 women in miniskirts, tights, and trousers danced, sang, and chanted “my dress my choice” and "shame, shame" in solidarity with the victim, who is now being celebrated as the “woman in red.”

They marched to the bus terminal where the assault took place about two weeks ago and handed out roses as a sign of peace. Today's protest was peaceful but also charged with emotion; it lasted nearly three hours and snarled downtown traffic. Some men joined in, while others watched by the sidelines, jeering at the women.

The protest more largely appears to stem from a series of sexual abuse incidents targeting underage girls, and the recent attacks related to attire was an unusual demonstration of solidarity. Women have become frustrated that sex crimes are not treated with urgency by the police and courts, and activists here are concerned that sentences handed out to sexual offenders by the court are too lenient to be a deterrent. 

“This is the beginning of the liberation of women in Kenya. It has started now and it will not stop. It must be respected. We should not be humiliated. My dress is my choice,” says Diana Rose Okello, a Nairobi resident who has played a key role in the protest. 

 The attack at the bus station came to light after a video that captured it went viral, igniting outrage and anger. Shortly after the assault, Ms.  Okello, who lives in the west-central neighborhood of Kilimani, posted about it on Facebook. The Kilimani Mums page then inspired the women’s dress-freedom campaign. The campaign goes by hashtag #mydressmychoice.

A statement by the Kilimani Mums in recent days argues that the stripping and assault of women is part of a pattern of growing impunity and disregard of human rights in Kenya. “Such attacks which seem to be on the rise, do not only offend our Constitution, but are also morally offensive and only serves to ridicule this nation,” the statement read in part. 

Deputy President William Ruto over the weekend condemned the attacks as barbaric and called for arrests. Some prominent women politicians and business persons are joining the protest.

“Teenage girls, or woman wearing skimpy dresses, have not broken any laws. Any men who touch them indecently, assaults and strips them has,” said Esther Pasaris, a prominent Kenyan entrepreneur in a tweet. Ms. Pasaris joined the protest march.

The attacks have cast a certain pall in Nairobi. Evelyne Gathoni, a research analyst who attended the protest, says she fears that if this is not stopped, she may not be able to go to work or go home after work in the near future.

“I wonder how it could happen in broad daylight. My concern is [the police] are treating this as a social issue, not crime,” she says, as she sings along to the Jamaican singer Bob Marley’s well-known song, "Get Up, Stand Up for Your Rights."

Eunice Kang’ethe, an English teacher and a Kilimani Mum, says stripping women because of their dress not only strips them of clothes, but of their dignity.

“We are here to enforce the dignity of women. How women dress is not a matter of the public,but an individual choice,” she says.

But some males in the crowd argued that some forms of dress violate religious codes as well as African cultural norms. Some also charged that the women were paid to go on the street and protest. Samson Ong’era, a salesman and father, said the protest puts him in a difficult situation, since now his daughters may refuse to dress modestly, and believe that fashions like miniskirts are acceptable in his family.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Angered by assault, women take to Nairobi streets in 'miniskirt protest'
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today