RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And women in Kenya are facing an extreme form of harassment. Almost daily for the past two weeks there, street mobs have publicly stripped women for wearing clothes the men deem too revealing. The attacks are shared on cell phone videos, inspiring a cycle of assaults. NPR's Gregory Warner reports that they're also sparking unprecedented activism for women's rights. And please note this report contains graphic and disturbing sounds of violence.
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: At a crowded bus station in downtown Nairobi, a guy in a checkered cap directs men and women into buses headed to all corners of the city. His name is David Owour. I ask him how he feels about women in miniskirts. His face fills with disgust.
DAVID OWOUR: (Speaking Swahili).
WARNER: Their clothes should be ripped off completely, he says.
They should be stripped?
WARNER: On November 10, at this same bus station, a woman was stripped naked and pawed by dozens of men. It wasn't the first time in this rough part of town. But this episode was captured on cell phone. The graphic video prompted some approval on Kenyan social media. The miniskirt, illegal in some African countries, has been portrayed in the press as a foreign European blight on traditional African fashion. But just around the corner from the bus station, in a narrow stall stocked with brightly colored fabrics, Marianne Njambi does a brisk trade in women's clothes.
What dresses are the best-selling?
MARIANNE NJAMBI: Miniskirts, mostly.
WARNER: Miniskirts are most popular?
NJAMBI: Yes, and tight trousers. This is our country. We have to wear it whenever you want it.
WARNER: Then she pulls out her cell phone and calls up the latest assault video that she downloaded just that morning. There's been a new video - a new victim - almost every day.
NJAMBI: Have you seen this?
WARNER: And a warning - this video is and sounds very graphic. This one is set inside a bus. The woman's canary yellow dress is hiked up, and the cell phone camera eye zooms in as her legs are forcibly spread open by some of the male passengers. These widely shared videos have sparked a national soul-searching in this predominately Christian country. Hundreds of demonstrators chanting my dress, my choice, took the streets of Nairobi last week to demand a government response.
KAVINYA MAKAU: People - I think it's because yes, it was filmed, Kenya is now having a conversation around violence against women for the first time, I must say, in a very long time.
WARNER: Kavinya Makau is a program officer at the human rights group Equality Now. She says these videos in Kenya have triggered more anger and more calls for change than any other episode of sexual violence.
MAKAU: It is an opportunity like no other for state officials to address in very concrete terms the issue of violence against women in Kenya.
WARNER: But she says the same viral videos that are galvanizing activism are also inciting copycat attacks of increasing violence. In a subsequent video, a woman was beaten. Another was raped with a beer bottle. Each new video, she says, is sending a message to would-be perpetrators.
MAKAU: Nothing happened to those people that were involved in that act. And it's the impunity around it and the fact that people know that they can get away with it that this continues to happen.
WARNER: Authorities say that they can't arrest people if the victims don't come forward. The national bar association called the Law Society of Kenya is requesting special permission to prosecute the crimes in their place. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.
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