A friend tells me that 50% of schoolgirls in a local primary school have been raped. That is, girls aged from 6-14. Elsewhere, it’s 70% of the girls. I’ve yet to find numbers on the boys. Of the over 5,000 cases still to be tried from Kenya’s Post-Election Violence in 2007-8, not a single one focuses on rape. Rape does not exist as a political crime in Kenya. Nor is it considered a crime of ethnic violence.
World AIDS Day intersects with 16 Days Against Gender Violence, which runs from November 25 to December 10, Human Rights Day. Day-Days-Day. Something about this triad gives me pause. I am struck by the ostensible optimism of day as opposed to night—the sense of revelation, of light, of comfort. And also the controlled duration of “day,” especially here in the tropics where time divides neatly into 12 hours of day and 12 of night. It is a needed optimism.
Time bleeds during prolonged gender violence. Many of these girls are raped as they walk home from school, during the day. Others, and perhaps the same ones, as they try to live—to perform chores outside, to use external toilets, to visit friends. At night and during the day. The distinction we’d like to offer, the hope that “day” provides relief from “night,” feels much too elusive. Is, in fact, much too elusive. Time extends and fractures in ways we can neither map nor comprehend when we experience violence.
Now is always much too long.
What is World AIDS Day for those whose rape by familiars and intimates is habitual, even expected? Does World AIDS Day name an inevitable future? A still-unknown present?
The theme for this year’s 16 Days Against Gender Violence is From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women! This theme should remind Kenyans of the intimate connection among domestic, national, and international violence, streams that loop into and reinforce each other. It should remind us that we do a terrible job of protecting those we deem most vulnerable. It should also remind us about those not deemed important enough to be deemed vulnerable, those whose rapes we deem inevitable.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s article for World AIDS Day notes the high prevalence of infection among the young, stating, “HIV prevalence among girls aged 15-19 years is six times that of men in the same age group.” He argues,
Overall, our young population remains exceedingly vulnerable, regardless of gender. Today, over 60 per cent of new HIV infections are among young people aged 15 to 35 years.
What these statistics show is that we still have a huge challenge protecting our female citizens and our youth from HIV.
This prevalence is worsened by the fact that the informal sector, which produces 25 per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product, and where the youth form the majority, is loosely coordinated when it comes to HIV prevention, care and treatment.
This sector does not have the workplace HIV programmes available to those in formal employment. The nature of the work in this sector means the entrepreneurs and workers are often hard to reach. They thus miss out on educational and health interventions on HIV-Aids.
Taken together, pediatric infections, high HIV-Aids prevalence among women, girls, youth and problems of providing care to those in the informal sector means we are far from being safe from the ravages of the disease.
By targeting women, youth and the informal sector, HIV-Aids continue to manifest a capacity to wreak havoc on our economy by crippling our most active population and sector. (my emphasis)
What does it mean to render HIV/AIDS agential? What does it mean to view those in economically precarious situations, note the numbers of high infections among them, and then worry that HIV/AIDS weakens the country’s economic potential? What is erased in this elaborate shuffling of cards?
No doubt there are many answers.
Here’s one: the girls aged 6-14 who are raped as they walk to and from school. The girls 6-14 who are raped when they go home, as they run errands, as they play with friends. The girls 6-14 who learn to accept rape as a form of social protection. The girls 6-14 who develop into the young women aged 15-19 with incredibly high rates of HIV/AIDS.
Rape is not inevitable.
HIV/AIDS is not inevitable.