International Day of the Girl: Amina’s Story

This article was written by Ruth Nyambura for publication on our blog for International Day of the Girl. Ruth, a contributor for The International Political Forum: The Voice of Global Youth, is from Nairobi & holds B.A Degree in Mass Communication from Daystar University, Kenya. She works as a volunteer communications and advocacy manager for the Forum for Young Women in Politics (FYWP) & is passionate about development issues in the Global South with an obvious bias towards Africa, women’s’ empowerment and the emancipation of youth.

My country Kenya was almost at the brink of a full out ethnic war after the hotly contested December 2007 elections that left 1,500 people dead, 800,000 forcefully evicted and displaced from their homes, approximately 10, 000 women sexually assaulted and 2, 000 men who were physically and also sexually assaulted. The result; 4 prominent Kenyan politicians including a media personality are currently facing charges of crimes against humanity for planning and masterminding the chaos that engulfed the country for close to a month, at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague.

Statistics on sexual assault tell us that 70% of them are never reported and that every woman will face some sort of sexual assault at least once in her lifetime. When these grim statistics about the post-election violence (PEV) were being compiled, the pain that women and more so girls with a disability had gone through during that period of madness in the country was barely mentioned and actually there are no statistics concerning them, but a year ago, I was told a story that I would like to share on this day celebrating the Girl Child.

Kisauni constituency is in Mombasa County, the 2nd largest city in the country which happens to be at the Coast. The constituency is reported to have the highest concentration of people with a disability in the whole country, with the numbers standing at 6,000 of the 5 Million people with a disability (PWD) who live in Kenya.

The winner of the Presidential race was announced in very strange circumstances on 30th December, 2007 and immediately hell broke loose after days of a lot tension and anger that finally boiled over. I was 18 then and watched the announcement on TV and I could immediately sense the danger in the air and the panic on everyone’s face as news started to trickle in that serious violence had erupted in almost every corner of the country. It was a feeling that I hope to God that I never experience for as long as I live. But I was in the capital Nairobi, in a gated community where our only worry at the time was how to get food supplies since shops had not opened during that whole period and we were running low on stock.

But in Kisauni, for a then 13 year old girl that I will call *Amina, things would forever change for her on that day. Amina was born deaf and dumb in a slum in Kisauni but to very supportive parents though very poor. On that day, her father who works at a stone quarry not too far from home had left for work early in the morning while her mother who earns money by washing clothes for wealthy families, had gone to look for work leaving Amina and her younger siblings at home.

It was an open secret that the people of Kisauni supported one of the two leading presidential candidates, actually, he was a favorite in the whole region and when he was not declared the winner in an election that was seen to have been heavily rigged, violence erupted immediately,  with looting of shops, buildings, houses and all this was crowned by demonstrations in the streets that the police tried desperately to contain but the anger was nothing like anyone had ever seen before.

In the chaos, Amina ran to look for her siblings who had been playing in an open field nearby and bring them back home because although she couldn’t hear, she could tell that something was seriously amiss. But Amina couldn’t get far, the chaos was too much and the teargas canisters being lobbied by the police was too much for her to bear so she ran back home and on the way bumped into one of their neighbors who was a policeman in one of the local police stations but had been off duty that day and who was running back to his house.

She was crying and making noises when they got to her house and he immediately figured out that neither her parents nor her siblings were around. This man, entrusted to protect the citizens of this country raped Amina and beat her up badly in a way to show her that if she said it was him, he would hurt her and her family.

The ordeal ended as immediately as it had began and she was left crying in the little room she shared with her parents and siblings. Her siblings found her minutes later and within an hour, her parents were back home to face the reality that their 13 year old deaf daughter had been raped. The worst part perhaps is that they couldn’t take the girl to hospital because it just was not safe for anyone to go out especially because it was night time by then but the next day they did and then after that they took her to one of the police stations with the help of a community mobilizer and activist.

At the station, Amina began to scream and cry and nobody could explain why or manage to calm her down. Interestingly like most parents with deaf children in Kenya, they do not know sign language and rely on obvious signs and in the case of Amina, since she could write; she would be forced to communicate with her parents and sibling using notes. The night before she refused to write down the exact events nor say whether she knew who raped her. The same happened at the hospital and also at the police station.

Hamisa Zaja, the community mobilizer as a last resort called one of the women activists she worked with and who knew sign language to meet them back home and try to communicate with Amina. It took a full day but she finally revealed the identity of her rapist; their neighbor, who was also a  policeman at the station that they had gone to report the case earlier in the day and who had been very supportive to Amina’s parents when they reported the case.

It’s almost 5 years later and this is how the story concluded; the man got away with it, his bosses shielded him and intimidated everyone who pushed for justice for Amina. It’s also interesting to note that the then Police Commissioner was also accused of crimes against humanity by the ICC; with regards to taking orders from above that ranged from giving a militia free way to kill, maim and rape people from a certain community and also for the grave offences committed by the men under him. The pre-trial court chambers decided the case against him was not strong enough to go to trial but I and many other Kenyans think otherwise,  but they do say that the law is an ass don’t they?

If it was not for the work that I began doing with the local community in Kisauni, I would probably never have had the chance to see and hear the pain that girls with disability such as Amina went through during that time and experience constantly. So on this day, I’m celebrating brave girls with a disability like Amina who are in a society that sadly justifies and entrenches inequality for girls with a disability through the state, education, the legal system, our culture, customs and traditions, religion, the market and even our political systems.

Imagine being born poor, in a patriachal society that considers women of less value and into a society that treats children with a disability like a curse with very few understanding their needs and issues. Now also imagine being a little girl who is deaf and dumb, your parents and siblings cannot understand sign language and practically the rest of those you physically interact with, meaning that just communicating simple pleasures like a joke are close to impossible. Now think about what Amina went through in a hospital where no single staff member knows sign language and in a police station where not only is there a language barrier between you and the people supposed to protect you but that one of them actually raped you.

Whatever you do today as we celebrate the millions of girls in the World, please remember to talk about the health, legal, education and economic issues that stand as barriers for girls with a disability to achieving their human rights and that ultimately prevent them from getting any meaningful development and say a prayer for their protection from such pain and evil.

Happy International Day of the Girl and especially to every beautiful girl in the world like Amina that has a disability!

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