NAIROBI, KENYA — “If a woman dresses in a sexy way, she is giving permission for men to have sex with her,” reads Collins Omondi Ooko to a classroom of high school boys in the Nairobi, Kenya slum of Kawangware. Ooko is a representative of the sexual violence prevention organization Ujamaa Africa. He’s going over a survey which asks the students if they agree or disagree with an array of points on sexual violence and rape culture. The organization, founded by a San Francisco-based physician, began providing sustenance and schooling to orphans in Kenya in 2007, but has since expanded to address sexual violence and entrenched poverty.
“Once a man is very sexually aroused it is necessary for him to have sex with someone to cool down,” one of the statements on the survey reads. “After a woman has already agreed to have sex, she has the right to change her mind even after the man already has an erection,” states another.
The boys giggle or snicker at some of the frankly worded sentences, but having completed a six-week long workshop on stopping sexual violence and obtaining consent from their partners, they’re far more likely to take the issues it deals with seriously.
According to a study conducted by Ujamaa along with Stanford University and several other organizations, the program has been remarkably successful. Before they participated in the workshop, 80 percent of boys indicated that a woman in a miniskirt gave men tacit consent to have sex with her. Afterwards, that figure dropped to 30 percent.
My Dress, My Choice
That very issue is one that came to the fore of Kenyan society last November when a woman was publicly stripped and assaulted at a Nairobi bus stop by a mob of men who claimed that she was dressed “indecently.” After a cell phone video of the incident went viral, nearly a thousand protesters took to the streets under the rallying cry of “My dress, my choice.” They marched through Nairobi to condemn vigilante violence against women for how they choose to dress.
“The biggest [issue] is negative masculinity [that tells men] that…we have to teach [women] that we are powerful,” Ujamaa’s Ooko said in an interview.
That mentality has bred a lot of violence in Kenya. More than 40 percent of Kenyan women reported facing domestic abuse on a regular basis, according to a survey by the World Health Organization.
Ooko, who grew up in a crime-ridden Nairobi slum himself, has seen the impact of what he calls “negative masculinity.”
“I’m from an environment where violence is rampant,” he told ThinkProgress. “Every single day someone steals something from a lady passing by. Girls are being raped. Women are being beaten.”
Congested Slums, Concentrated Crime
According to Ujamaa, one in four girls who live in Nairobi’s congested slums have been raped. That’s compared to 11 percent of their peers in more affluent parts of the Kenyan capital.
For Ooko, those numbers are telling. He wishes that a program like the one he now works for would have existed when he was in school. It would have saved a lot of his friends from committing acts of violence — or being the victims of them.
“If they would have been exposed to such information at an early age, they would have been totally different people,” he said.
“A lot of crime in the slum is driven by poverty,” said to Benjamin Omondi Mboya, who heads Ujamaa.
He said that he close proximity in which people live drives up crime, but noted that the biggest problem is a lack of enforcement.
“No one is there to set rules,” Mboya said. “People [rape] this because they can get away with it.”
In May, Kenya passed laws that crack down on gender-based violence, but it still requires proof beyond what many believe to be feasible to win a case.
The relative impunity for sexual violence has led Ujamaa to take a different approach to addressing the issue.
“We say ‘let’s prevent it, because no one is going to do anything about it,” Mboya said. “The law does not protect the woman enough. It does not deter the perpetrator.”
Don’t Rape Vs. Don’t Get Raped
We live in a world where…people do not say ‘do not rape,’ they say,’do not get raped.’
The approach is a new one for a region where sexual violence campaigns have long called for women to demand the use of a condom or report rape — but rarely attempted to inform men on how to avoid or intervene in unwanted sexual encounters.
“We live in a world where…people do not say ‘do not rape,’ they say, ‘do not get raped.’” Mboya said. “Basically no one tells the boys its wrong.”
Ujamaa ran a program to teach girls basic self-defense skills and inform them of their rights for years before teachers asked them to create a similar workshop for boys. The effort launched in 2012 and has since reached 350,000 school boys.
By the end of 2017, every school child in Nairobi will have undergone one of Ujamaa’s 6-week programs in an effort funded by the British government.
“For us to change a generation, we have to target them young,” Mboya said.
Part of Ujamaa’s effort is to get young people to tell their peers about what they’ve learned in the workshop.
That’s what Dun Gaftaso Orunjugi did when he attended a neighbor’s birthday party some weeks back.
“When the birthday party ended, the [birthday] boy said that he must have sex with one girl,” he told ThinkProgress in an interview just after he finished taking Ujamaa’s survey in his Nairobi classroom.
Orunjugi’s neighbor, a 23-year-old, had been introduced to an 18-year-old woman who he began to seduce. Having learned about informed consent, Orunjugi asked the young woman if she wanted to have sex with the party’s host. She said no, but added that she didn’t feel she could say anything to stop it from happening.
As taught by the workshop, Orunjugi decided to intervene. He followed the two up to the man’s bedroom.
“I came and told them that it’s not good, and he beat me,” Orunjugi said. “I unlocked the door, and then I told the girl to run, but I was left there, [to be beaten]. The neighbors and [the boy’s] father came to rescue me.”
He took a punch in the face, but, he said, it was worth it to save a woman from being raped.
This article was written with support from the International Center for Journalists along with the Ford Foundation.