By Ebi Kesiena
15 women, mostly grandmothers in a Korogocho slum in Kenya have enrolled in twice-a-week taekwondo classes at a community centre to enable them fend off rapists.
In a viral video, the women dressed in headscarves and long skirts were seen punching, with bare knuckles, sacks full of old clothes produced as makeshift punching bags.
One after the other, the women are seen walking slowly past raw sewage and sharp metal roofing to an open space in Korogocho which is a Swahili term means “crowded shoulder to shoulder.”
Korogocho which is one of the largest slum neighbourhoods of Nairobi, has a high population and unemployment are rife in the slum. Lack of prospects and a secure future mean many youths are vulnerable to joining gangs which can lead them to commit crimes, including rape.
The aim of the training sessions is to protect women from such attacks.
Every Thursday at 2pm, the fifteen women, aged mainly between 60 and 80, meet for a taekwondo training session.
The oldest woman in the class is Wambui Njoroge, who is believed to be around 110 years old.
According to 60-year-old Jane Waithaigeni Gabriel Kimaru, the team leader and trainer, the training will empower the women to protect and run away from their attacker.
She added that part of their training involves learning to vocalise their distress during any attack to ensure that they are heard.
“You do not need a lot of energy it is just self-defence; just to protect yourself and run away. You do not necessarily have to defeat them (referring to the attacker) you just stun them and before they realise/stand up again you get away,” she said.
In Korogocho, there is a high percentage of widows and single mothers who have the hard task of bringing up children in difficult conditions.
Elderly women suffer far higher levels of sexual abuse since they are deemed weaker by the attackers.
The protection strategy is used to alert any nearby members of the public, should they suffer an attack.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenyan authorities say rape and sexual abuse cases have increased. Kenya’s Ministry of Health says it has received reports of at least 5,000 sexual violence cases across the country, many of whom live in poverty.
Officials say in many cases the perpetrators are close to the victims and do not believe the abuse is a crime.