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Founder of group for survivors of rape and gender based violence in talks with our University over research links

imageKenyan activist meets with researchers at our University and practitioners at Leicester Rape Crisis

L-R Dr Lisa Smith, Lynda Yorke (manager of Leicester Rape Crisis), Wangu Kanja, Dr Clare Gunby (UoL), Meirion Reynolds (Honorary President of Leicester Rape Crisis).

An activist who survived a harrowing rape and carjacking, and went on to establish a Foundation for victims of sexual and gender based violence, is in discussion with our University over establishing a research partnership.

Ms. Wangu Kanja, a Kenyan woman who founded and is director of the Wangu Kanja Foundation is participating in workshops and conversations organised by Dr Lisa Smith from our Department of Criminology.

The aim is to strengthen collaborations in research relating to sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings and other low-resource environments. This is linked to the project Dr Smith leads with colleagues in the Department of Genetics developing forensic DNA recovery techniques for women in developing countries.

Wangu Kanja said: “Amplifying the voices of survivors requires ‘all hands on deck’ and so building a relationship with the University of Leicester is crucial for linking research with national priorities in Kenya.”

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The Survivor Who Was Carjacked, Raped, and Now Fights for Other Victims


He told me to undress, I refused—I said, ‘No. What you are doing is wrong.’ He asked me again. I said, ‘No, I don’t know you. What you’re asking me is wrong.’ The third time he asked, he took out a gun. Eventually he gave me a bullet and said, ‘You choose whether you want to live or die.'”

This is how Wangu Kanja describes the night in 2002 when she was raped at gunpoint. She is matter of fact in her description. It’s a story she has told many times before.

It has been nearly 16 years since she was carjacked and violently sexually assaulted as she travelled home with associates from a business meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. The perpetrators ransacked the group’s bank cards and took Kanja hostage, the only woman in the group, in case they had given incorrect PIN numbers.

That was the night she says her world came to a standstill.

“He raped me at gunpoint. His mate was standing at the entrance so I didn’t have a choice, I couldn’t run away. After, I was numb, I didn’t know how to react to it, the trauma,” she said.

“When I came out to speak about my ordeal people judged me. The first question was always how were you dressed? Who were you with? People’s reactions were either to keep silent or to blame me, instead of holding the perpetrator accountable.”

Kanja reported the incident, however, despite attending hospital, police refused to acknowledge the attack as rape. They told her: “Sex is sex,” and labelled it…

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This is Life

Wangu Kanja begins this interview by questioning why people have stopped being human. She wonders why the society has become so cruel. “Rape is a crime that defies all logic.

Years back, it was unconventional to hear stories of men raping their daughters but such stories abound today,” says the rape survivor and sexual gender-based violence activist.

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Only Rape Survivors (Like Me) Can Truly Understand What Other Victims Have Gone Through

In 2002, I was car-jacked and raped. Traumatized and shaking, I remembered the advice of a family friend when I was growing up — that if I was ever raped, I should report it straight away.

But the police turned me away. They didn’t want to know.

I attended counseling, but I couldn’t cope with life so I turned to coping mechanisms in a bid to numb the pain. I used alcohol and casual sex in failed attempts to make me feel loved and desired, rather than brutalized and worthless in the eyes of men. The rape, and the lack of help or channels to talk about it in conservative Kenyan society, nearly destroyed me.

Then I began to wonder.

It occurred to me that if I, as a middle-class woman, couldn’t get the help I needed, then how much worse must it be for poor, isolated or uneducated Kenyan women who have experienced this type of gender-based violence? So in 2005 I set up the Wangu Kanja Foundation, because I couldn’t stand the thought of so many thousands of Kenyan women not even knowing they had the right to stand up for themselves.

I wanted to use my experience to inform and influence the kind of mechanisms and services we need in this country. Only survivors of that experience can truly understand what other victims have gone through. Since then, we’ve helped thousands of women.

Some have children born as the result of rape. When we first see them, they can’t love their child because of their ordeal. We provide counseling one to one, in groups of survivors, and as a family. I’m so happy to see now that many of those women are developing a loving bond with their children, powerfully overcoming their experience. We are building a network of survivors and we are training some of those women to pass on those lessons. And we are teaching women both to understand what laws are there to help them gain justice, how to access them and how to generate their own income from existing and simple skills, such as making peanut butter and weaving baskets. That way, women from poorer backgrounds are not reliant on a man for their livelihood while they are also dealing with their trauma.

In the end, I opted not to pursue my case legally because of the stigma and discrimination that comes with sexual violence and the shame that comes with it. I understand how a person feels when they have been raped — the fear, rejection, shame and condemnation, so I know how important it is that survivors get comprehensive care and support.

I spent years entangled in a complex fight to get my case recorded and properly addressed so I know how important it is that survivors have help through that. My foundation has set up a helpline that women can call to report a rape. We then connect the woman to the healthcare workers and paralegals in their area who can accompany them to medical examinations and help submit the medical report (Post Rape Care form) to the police, which is needed to take the perpetrator to court. Our legal advisors help follow the case through. We are going to scale this up, in partnership with Safaricom, one of Kenya’s biggest mobile-network providers, to include a text service that women can use to alert us of an attack.

The reporting of sexual gender-based violence in Kenya is still very low. For example, in 2014 the International Center for Transitional Justice reported very high incidences of rape and sexual violence in the 2007-2008 post-election violence that swept across Kenya. The worst cases happened in Nairobi’s Kibera and Mathare slums, where hundreds of women suffered horrific violence, yet only 31 survivors were willing to talk about the experience with the official Commission set up to hear evidence. The Commission heard these women feared retaliation, feared the police and didn’t believe anything would be done. So using mobile technology provides a friendly, discreet and dignified way forward.

Our successes show what can be done with even a crumb of effort and funding. But we’re still small, so our foundation has focused on Nairobi. But when Kenya signs up to the new Sustainable Development Goals in September, Goal 5 — the requirement to end all violence against women and girls — our example must be given due prominence. Most Kenyans have a mobile phone, so our reporting service could easily go national and encourage women, whether rich or poor, rural or urban, to report an attack immediately. Counseling is an expensive business, but we have worked with survivors whose healing process was helped by their decision to train up and work with us. They are empowered to help others and spread the knowledge about the means to get oneself redress.

I call not only on Kenya to use these means to respond to Sustainable Development Goal 5, but equally, to all Kenyan women to act, to speak up and learn their rights — not their place — and to be fearless.

Wangu Kanja will speak about her work and experiences in London on September 10 at ActionAid’s ‘Celebrating Fearless Women.’ To find out more about the Fearlesscampaign, go to

Follow Wangu Kanja on Twitter at @KanjaWangu.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, “What’s Working: Sustainable Development Goals,” in conjunction with the United Nations’Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals(2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development — including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post’s commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What’s Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 5.

To find out what you can do, visit here and here.

Putting back life’s broken pieces: loving my baby after rape

Women’s bodies were turned into battlefields in the 2007-08

post-election violence. Under the Journalists for Justice Programme, Joyce Wangui documents six women’s experiences, struggles and how they are coping seven years later.

Many are the times Chichi has wished her seven-year-old daughter dead.

She has tried strangling her, suffocating her, denying her food for days, and has once beaten her to within an inch of her life.

“If I had my way, I would have killed this baby the moment I delivered it.”

Chichi’s daughter has just returned from a nearby school to their tiny room in Mashimoni area of Nairobi’s sprawling Mathare slum. She is barefoot, and her uniform is threadbare, with patches concealing the larger tears.

Her eyes are sunken, her body frail — and Chichi quickly explains that feeding her daughter is a huge challenge.

Chichi has another mouth to feed now — her two-year-old son, whom she bore with the man she shares the house with and fondly refers to as “my husband”.

Even though Chichi lives in abject poverty, with almost nothing to offer her children, it is not difficult to discern the absence of warmth between mother and daughter.

Chichi asks her daughter to fetch water and fill in several containers before washing her school uniform. It is cold outside and the little girl has no warm clothing but she knows better than to disobey her mother.

“I shout at her a lot. I just can’t bring myself to talk to her quietly. I call her names,” Chichi confesses, adding that she finds herself beating her severely for petty mistakes like spilling tea.

Once, she recalls, she beat her daughter so seriously that were it not for the neighbours, she could have killed her.

“I once beat her so badly until she bled. My neighbours threatened to report me to the police: that is when the beatings stopped for some time.”

In Mashimoni, where the structures are built very close to each other, there is no privacy and on any given day, the neighbours will hear what is going on next door.

“I was in so much pain from the suffering that I was going through that I tried to suffocate Toto in her sleep. My husband came in at the right time,” Chichi says drily.

Her daughter is a daily reminder of what Chichi has endured.

“When the child asks for something I can’t offer, I feel bad because I am reminded of who she is,” says Chichi.


Chichi remembers a group of men forcing her to sniff a substance before losing her senses.

When she came to, she was in unfamiliar surroundings in a woman’s house, bleeding profusely. Her thighs were bathed in blood and the bump at the back of her head was still bleeding.

The Good Samaritan who had picked her up from the dump and taken her and cleaned her up and gave her medication. She had, by her act of kindness, unwittingly destroyed all the evidence of the crimes that had been committed against Chichi.

Mathare was swimming in blood, houses were on fire and bodies were floating in the nearby Mathare River, not far from where Chichi had found refuge.

“People were in a state of confusion. No one really cared,” she says.

The dispute over the 2007 presidential election result had degenerated into an ethnic brawl pitting the Kikuyu against the Luo, two communities living cheek-by-jowl in the tension of slum scarcities. Youth from the two communities fought bitterly, but the worst was to follow when police were dispatched to the area. She says security agents turned the place into a den of death.

Police seemed to compete with ordinary citizens in committing acts of violence, rape, murder and looting.

Chichi, then a 15-year-old student at Kisumu Girls School, was caught in the maelstrom of the violence that erupted. She had visited Nairobi for the Christmas holiday, and wistfully wonders how her life would have turned out if she had remained in Kisumu during the school holiday.

Chichi was visiting her aunt in Kariobangi in Nairobi. On the fateful day, she left her aunt’s house to visit her friend in the Mathare slums.

She never made it back.

Strolling back to her aunt’s house at around 5.30 pm, at the bridge between Riverside and Kariobangi South, known locally as a “black spot” for crime, she heard gunshots but could not tell where they were coming from.

Unknown to her, violence had already erupted in the slum areas but it had not reached Kariobangi.

“One bullet flew so close to my ear but thankfully it did not touch me.”

She panicked and started running as the sound of gunshots rose. She ran into a gang of 15 youngsters wielding sharpened weapons. Some had guns.

They accosted her but she kept running.

The young men tried to greet her but she was too shocked to respond.

“One of the men hit my head so hard with a sharp object that I fell on the ground.”

Then the first man began to rape her, followed by others.

Chichi began to lose consciousness but before her world became dark, she heard her attackers say that they would teach her a lesson for her arrogance.

“I did not even vote because I was not of age. I thought people were being punished for voting,” Chichi says, remembering the violence of December 31, 2007.

Her aunt’s house was burnt to ashes forcing her to flee to her rural home. Chichi would not be able to know what had happened to her until months later.

Although she was not a direct victim of police brutality, she faults the force for perpetrating much of the violence and not protecting vulnerable citizens like her.

“If police were doing their job, I would not have been raped.”

Just when she thought matters could not get any worse, her pregnancy test at a health centre in Mathare produced positive results.

It dawned on her that she was carrying a crisis pregnancy.

“My world just collapsed. They had left me with a permanent reminder of what they had done.”

What would she tell her fellow students at Kisumu Girls High School? What would she tell her peers at home? Would they believe her?

Her greatest worry was how to break the terrible news to her cousin, who had been paying for her education after her parents died.

“She demanded that I get an abortion or she would stop paying my fees.”

But Chichi was afraid. She had heard horrible stories of women who procured abortions. She feared it could kill her.

Her cousin sent her away and Chichi found herself back in the bowels of Mathare.

She would soon give birth here, against all odds of slum life.

With the benefit of hindsight, Chichi feels that she should have terminated the pregnancy, but there was no opportunity for that.

“I was forced to give birth and consequently take care of that child’s every needs to date.”

She is among the many women who were denied abortion by the state policy because it is illegal in Kenya.

Jacqueline Mutere, founder of Grace Agenda, advocates access to safe abortions in rape pregnancies.

A survivor of rape and pregnancy herself, Mutere says the current laws should be changed to allow for the termination of rape pregnancies.

“It should form part of the comprehensive post-rape care.”

At the time of delivery, Chichi’s demons reawakened.

Birth can reawaken the trauma of rape. Researchers from the Arctic University of Norway have found that the trauma of rape is often relived when the survivor is on her back and undressed.

She is surrounded by strangers who are “having their way” with her body in a manner reminiscent of the assault.

The research also shows that women who have been abused are more vulnerable because even though their experiences have been suppressed, they come forth during the birth.

Chichi recalls her delivery being unbearable. She endured a prolonged labour and was finally delivered through Caesarian section.

Up till now, she does not know who paid her medical bills.

Coping with the effects of sexual assault and rape can be overwhelming. Some survivors lean onto substance abuse to help them to cope with overwhelming feelings.

Psychologists say because a survivor’s control and sense of safety have been taken away by the perpetrator, engaging in self-injuring behaviour can also bring a temporary sense of control over a person’s environment and serve as a release for tension.

Living in an environment where rape, murder and other serious crimes are common, Chichi found herself immersed in habits that would enable her to cope with her trauma.

Out of school and thrust into motherhood, Chichi found life had become unbearable for her and got into prostitution in 2010. It was not something she had ever considered, given her strict upbringing.

“Sometimes I did it for money and food; at other times I did it to gain acceptance from men,” she adds.

But the terrain was rough. “Such a job requires girls who are street smart. I was not.”

Wangu Kanja of the Wangu Kanja Foundation, another rape survivor who turned to similar coping mechanisms to numb her pain and trauma, writes in an article: “I used alcohol and casual sex in failed attempts to make me feel loved and desired, rather than brutalised and worthless in the eyes of men.”

The night work took a heavy toll on Chichi’s daughter, who would often be left alone to fend for herself.

“I used to leave her alone in the house. She became so weak that at some point she got anaemia. She almost died,” Chichi recalls.

The house she lived in after giving birth to her daughter was burnt in renewed chaos in Mathare.

“All my documents, including my birth certificate and identity card, were destroyed in the fire.”

Because she is very eloquent, many organisations would like to hire her but she lacks the requisite documentation. She cannot trace the identity cards of her dead parents, which would enable her to obtain her own.

She finds the process of getting replacement documents bureaucratic and requiring transport expenses to public offices.

She has attended numerous counselling sessions courtesy of Grace Agenda, an organisation that counsels and supports women who have given birth to rape babies.

“We teach women how to love their babies and the need for forgiveness. We tell them that it is not the baby’s fault,” says Jacqueline Mutere, Grace Agenda’s founder.

Mutere is a survivor of the post-election sexual violence and gave birth to a baby as a result of rape. She says when she meets women survivors; many don’t love their children because of the tribulations they have undergone.

“We provide them with holistic psycho-social support — first to accept whatever they endured and, secondly, to love their children.”

Many women in the programme, including Chichi, are gradually developing a bond with their children and overcoming their painful experiences.

Chichi feels bad when her daughter compares herself with other children.

“One day, she told me that a neighbour’s child had brand new clothes bought for her because the mother loves her. Then she asked me, ‘Mum, do you love me?”

At the beginning of the school year, Chichi’s daughter stayed home because her mother didn’t have Sh4,000 for the term’s fees.

“For the past one month, she has gone to school barefoot.”

Chichi herself still misses education and remembers her school days with nostalgia. She makes up for what she misses by being an avid reader of books, magazines, journals and other educative material.

“I am invited to so many high level forums because I am eloquent and I can articulate issues. I am well read. I know about human rights and women rights.”

The food shelf in Chichi’s house is empty, save for the insects that scurry in their desperate search for leftovers.

“We don’t buy food here. We don’t have the money to.”

Chichi has done menial jobs on construction sites, which have calloused her hands.

“The work is strenuous. It destroyed my palms. They swell a lot.”

Sometimes she commutes to Eastleigh to wash clothes for wealthier households.

Her thumb is still bleeding from the last laundry job.


When the world turned its back on Chichi, one man saw the gem in her.

Despite the suspicion that still lingers between their ethnic communities and the pain she still bears, Chichi, a Luo, and Peter, a Kikuyu, have decided to make a life together.

Peter fell in love with Chichi, knowing only too well what he was getting himself into. He had heard about her rape, her life in prostitution and other stories that did not enhance her image.

“People in this neighbourhood said a lot of things about her, but I decided to stay with her and learn those things by myself,” Peter says.

He embraced Chichi with open arms because he realised that she needed help; that he needed to shield her from the cruelties of Mathare. But he also had to prepare himself psychologically to embrace Chichi and her tantrums.

“Sometimes she is very moody. She can wake up and break things, but I let it pass because I know she is venting.”

Over time, Peter’s family has accepted Chichi because of his unwavering support.

Initially, they had reservations because of the social stigma attached to rape, but he has convinced them and today, they take her as family.

“His family is very supportive. His mother has helped me to cope as a woman.”

Peter takes Chichi for therapy. He accompanies her to the many sessions she is often invited to. “He is my number one pillar,” she says.

Although not formally employed, Peter relies on menial jobs, which are not easy to come by because there are too many people in the slums scrambling for the few available.

“Sometimes I come home late because I can’t stand to see my family sleeping on empty stomachs. I come home when they are sleeping.”

Hunger is never too far away from their house, but they make do with whatever opportunities life throws their way.

Once in a while, Peter gets weekly contracts at the National Youth Service projects that have been initiated in the slums. He takes me to a farm where the residents grow sukuma wiki (kale) for sale to boost family incomes.

Peter, a youth leader in Mathare, has helped Chichi to embrace the daughter she conceived through rape and implores young boys and men to respect women and not condone violence.

Living with a survivor of rape has taught him a lot. He also advises men whose spouses have been sexually violated: “Don’t listen to people. Listen to the person who has been raped. Hear her story, understand her. Love her.”

Chichi says she is not a victim but a survivor. That realisation has enabled her to pick up the broken pieces of her life. She stopped feeling sorry for herself over what happened.

“Whenever I am invited to forums where others survivors of rape are in attendance, I tell them to erase the word victim from their mind, because they survived the ordeal.”

Whatever happened to her, though horrendous, has broadened her perspective on life.

One of the healing processes for rape survivors, according to psychologists, is to move from being a victim to become a survivor in an effort to regain control over one’s life. It is typically at this stage for a woman to consider returning to work or changing careers, considering long-term therapy, self-defence courses and strategising about having more contact with family.

Chichi now talks about human rights with great conviction and depth. “Now I know what it really means to be sexually violated and having no one to support you.”

She urges women to be their “sisters’ keepers”.

She shelters women in her tiny room; those whose lives have been wrecked; women who have been sexually violated; teenage girls who have been raped and put in the family way.

But she also surrounds herself with women with great minds, so that she can learn the ropes of survival. She admits that sometimes she doesn’t like to be in the company of fellow survivors because all they do is cry.

“A blind man cannot lead the other. So sometimes I get out of their cocoon and mingle with other people.”

She has joined several women’s groups, among them the Young Women Empowerment Group, which brings together clusters for investment and revolving funds, among other ventures.

They are building a shelter in the slum area to rescue women and girls who have survived sexual and gender-based violence.

Chichi laments that the government has deliberately turned a blind eye on the sexual violence survivors of the post-election period. Never one to shy away from confronting issues that she feels are relegated, Chichi recalls how the police treated her with derision when, days after her gang rape, she went to report her case.

“I didn’t have the luxury of counselling myself, but I have perfected it as an art.”

Chichi has attended many forums for survivors of the post-election violence, growing naturally into a mentorship role. Her mastery of the English language and self confidence see her often holding fort at forums on critical issues.

“I have been to so many forums where I confront members of the police force without fear. I still believe that had the police been vigilant, these rapes could not have happened to us.”

Chichi understands that prosecution of post-election sexual offenders may never happen because a lot of time has elapsed and evidence is missing, but she knows that restorative justice is an important step the government should prioritise.

No amount of money can pay for the injuries inflicted on Chichi’s mind, body and soul — not even the Sh10 billion that the President announced to set up the restorative justice fund.

“It was a violation of my body, who can pay me for that? Nobody.”

Still, she needs the burden of raising her daughter and providing for her needs eased from her. She needs to give her a good life.

The lone toilet in the area is almost a kilometre away and comes with a bathroom for hire. On this night, she tells me that one has to use the facility early because it gets risky at night. The narrow paths too are not passable.

Living in an area where violence such as rape is common place has also made her a little paranoid.

She is afraid of men, particularly those who come knocking looking for her husband.

“When my daughter is alone in the house, I get afraid that a man might sexually violate her. I imagine how my kid would feel.”

She has a warning for anyone who would think of harming her daughter.

“That is the day we will both end up in Lang’ata; him at the cemetery and me at the prison.”

– See more at:

‘You can either be shot or be raped’

‘You can either be shot or be raped’.
Brave Kenyan woman recalls the terrifying moment carjackers gave her a horrific choice and how her attackers have never been caught.

  • Wangu Kanja, 40, from Nairobi, was sexually assaulted in 2002
  • Police refused to report the rape and recorded it as a ‘robbery’
  • No evidence was gathered and her rapist has never been found
  • Now an activist changing the way sexual assault is dealt with in Kenya

A Kenyan woman who was carjacked and raped has revealed how the horrific experience has inspired her to help other victims of sexual abuse.

Wangu Kanja, 40, from Nairobi, was attacked in 2002 and the man responsible has never been brought to justice thanks to Kenyan police’s lack of will and resources to carry out a full investigation.

Wangu told MailOnline it took her years to overcome her ordeal but she is now using what happened to her to help others. She is lobbying for change in the way sexual abuse is dealt with in Kenya, and offering support to victims through a foundation she has set up in her name.

The campaigner recalled how she was 27 years old when she was attacked after she was being driven home from her job at a tea company by a colleague. They were followed by another vehicle and carjacked by a group of men.

She said the men robbed her and her friend and one of the men then held her hostage while the others went to get money from the ATM using cards they had stolen.

She said: ‘They wanted to make sure we had given the correct PIN numbers before they let me go. I was left with one of the men waiting in a bush. He told me to undress. I kept saying “no” as I knew it wasn’t right.

‘Then he gave me a bullet to hold, he said I could choose to have that inside me or something else… I had to chose to be raped or killed, I chose to live.’

Wangu, pictured with children at a school she visited in Nairobi in her work as a campaigner for women's rights, has been able to deal with what happened to her thanks to talking about it and helping others

Wangu, pictured with children at a school she visited in Nairobi in her work as a campaigner for women’s rights, has been able to deal with what happened to her thanks to talking about it and helping others

Wangu, pictured with children at a school she visited in Nairobi in her work as a campaigner for women's rights, has been able to deal with what happened to her thanks to talking about it and helping others

Wangu, pictured right talking to the partner at the foundation she has set up, now works to help other victims of rape after her case was never fully investigated and the rapist never convicted

Following the sexual assault, Wangu was set free and went straight to the police in the hope her attacker would be punished for his crimes.

However, she said the police didn’t have the resources to take any DNA evidence from her that may have identified the perpetrator and she was so traumatised, she could not remember what he looked like to provide any information to help identify him.

The fact she had been raped was not deemed to be a serious crime and so her report of what happened was only logged as a robbery and carjacking. The culprits were never found so Wangu has never had justice.

She said: ‘The police turned me away. They didn’t want to know. I decided not to pursue it at the time as victims of rape in Kenya can be stigmatised and it can be very expensive to create a legal case. I knew of an Australian tourist who had been raped in Kenya and it took nine years for her case to be heard and I wasn’t ready to cope with that.’

It was years later that Wangu found the resolve to deal with what happened to her. The lack of evidence means she will never find her attacker but she is now campaigning to change the way sexual assault cases are dealt with in her country.

Wangu, pictured with children at a school she visited in Nairobi in her work as a campaigner for women's rights, has been able to deal with what happened to her thanks to talking about it and helping others

Wangu now works tirelessly to educate and reform sexual abuse in Kenya and is pictured here giving a talk

Wangu, pictured with children at a school she visited in Nairobi in her work as a campaigner for women's rights, has been able to deal with what happened to her thanks to talking about it and helping others

Wangu is pictured here addressing an audience on the importance pf women’s rights. She said people in Kenya need to learn how to talk more openly about sex and sexual violence

She has set up the Wangu Kanja Foundation, which is partnered by the charity ActionAid, to campaign for change and to give support to other victims.

Speaking of the changes that need to be made, she said: ‘The Sexual Offences Act is not enforced. There needs to be a special police unit to focus on sexual violence, at the moment they don’t have the resources and so other crimes take priority. They don’t have the means to take evidence from rape victims and in cases where there is evidence, it can take years to go to court and there are cases of corruption or women are threatened if they take a case to a trial.’

Alongside the bureaucratic and logistical problems, Wangu said the subject of sex and the rights of women in general need to be readdressed in her culture.

She said: ‘We need to create an environment where we can talk about sex openly. At the moment in Kenya no one talks about it, if the subject is raised there are giggles and people look down, it is not an easy topic to discuss. That needs to change.

‘It needs to be taught that a woman is not a sex object but a human being and she is to be respected.’

Even though by speaking out when she was raped didn’t lead to her attacker being held accountable, Wangu said other women should not be afraid to report sexual assault.

Wangu, pictured with children at a school she visited in Nairobi in her work as a campaigner for women's rights, has been able to deal with what happened to her thanks to talking about it and helping others

Posters like this one help Wangu promote her mission for women to be treated fairly

Wangu, pictured with children at a school she visited in Nairobi in her work as a campaigner for women's rights, has been able to deal with what happened to her thanks to talking about it and helping others

Through the project she had set up, Wangu can refer women to health clinics like this one

She also said they should not feel ashamed or that they are to blame. They should speak to someone about what happened to help them in order to deal with it psychologically. She said it took her many years to come to terms with what happened to her – and for years she refused to let anyone get close to her.

‘For ten years I vowed I would never have a relationship or have children because I didn’t want to bring them into a world that wasn’t safe,’ she said.’ But now after mentoring and counselling I have changed my view. I am still single but I am ready for a relationship now.’

She added: ‘Although I haven’t had justice, setting up the foundation has also helped me deal with what happened. I can change other people’s lives for the better and that gives me hope.’

Explaining the project she has set up in Nairobi, she said: ‘I understand how a person feels when they have been raped – the fear, rejection, shame and condemnation, so I know how important it is that survivors get comprehensive care and support.

Wangu, pictured with children at a school she visited in Nairobi in her work as a campaigner for women's rights, has been able to deal with what happened to her thanks to talking about it and helping others

When Wangu was raped, there were no resources for her to be medically examined so there was no evidence record of the rape. She helps women visit medical health centres like the one pictured to change this (picture posed by models)

‘My foundation has set up a helpline that women can call to report a rape. We then connect the woman to the healthcare workers and paralegals in their area who can accompany them to medical examinations and help submit the medical report (Post Rape Care form) to the police, which is needed to take the perpetrator to court.

‘Our legal advisors help follow the case through. We are going to scale this up, in partnership with Safaricom, one of Kenya’s biggest mobile-network providers, to include a text service that women can use to alert us of an attack.’

Wangu hopes this helpline can then become national so women across the country can get in touch.

The foundation can offer counselling to victims and allow them to talk about their experiences with others who know and understand what they have been through.

They also offer less traditional but effective treatments such as dance therapy classes.

Wangu said: ‘Our successes show what can be done with even a crumb of effort and funding.’

Wangu Kanja spoke about her work and experiences in London last night at ActionAid’s ‘Celebrating Fearless Women.’ To find out more and support the Fearless campaign by signing their petition to end violence against women, visit

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