Unveiling the Veil

4 Apr

Unveiling the Veil


By Wanjala Wafula


A week ago, I travelled to the city where the sea comes to rest and the stars illuminate the sky each night. Place where pre-historic monuments allure the shoreline and whose residents deem temperance. A warm place, everlastingly prepared for the fervent, bouncy and the equipped. City of the civilized who sport gaudy white gowns, bare torso tourists hovering around and veiled fussily walking beauties. As Ramadhan Rajab put it “Mombasa is a metropolis that never slumbers”


Most women and girls in the city are typically clad in the venerated black gear popularly known as Bui Bui (Veil). They meticulously walk radiating buoyancy and content. Their style of talk like their Arabic body paintings is exceptional. They are known for their stringent devotion to their Muslim faith and “obedience” to their husbands even in the countenance of adversity. Their public extol of their spouses is second to none. Nevertheless, a closer glance at them exposes a deep sense of vagueness and apprehension. It divulges a sense of people at crossroads and yearning for help.

 They are victims of a faith that has relegated them to the position of lesser beings as well as rigorous traditions that relentlessly remind them that they are to be seen and used and not to be heard and respected. Most of them are married off before they are hardly fifteen through arranged marriages or to men who are older than their fathers. They face each day with hesitation as their destiny is desolately in the hands of their spouses, religion, culture and parents. “We have no voice and power in this community. My six year old son can insult me or another woman and we are not allowed to answer back. We are just women, we are tools for child bearing” laments Hijab Nuria as she goes on with her daily chores in Mombasa’s old town on the Kenyan coast.

Their voices are muted even as many of them continue to be fatalities of domestic violence and intense decadence. The archaic cultural practices and values remain hurdles to the realization of the rights and freedoms of women. Negative masculinity is common practice as wife battering and exploitation are practiced with impunity. “A stroke (bakora as is commonly called) is a sign of love and nobody complains about it because it has been practiced since time in memorial. He beats me averagely twice a week but he does it in private”, affirms Asha lwenga, a fish trader at Kinondo beach. “Sometimes he comes home and beats us all then picks the one he wants to spent the night with” jumps in 22 year old Zainabu who also revealed that she is the third five to a 65 year old man.

Polygamy and unjustifiable divorce are enshrined both culturally and religiously. Marriages can be terminated at the stroke of a pen thus through the pronouncement of a decree or talaka as is commonly called. “I recently went to court to have a divorce nullified because the man sent a text message to the wife asking her to pack and go. It’s exceedingly intricate to be a woman in this part of the world and a Muslim at the same time” laments lawyer Nuria Hamisi whose law firm defends the rights and liberties of Muslim women in Kenya.

The stigma and trauma associated with divorce has left many women in abusive marriages. Their lives are plagued by extreme poverty. Their rights are trodden upon and their freedoms curtailed. They face extra risks and deprivations as they are systematically denied their human rights to access, own, control or inherit land and property. Gender inequality, power dynamics in sexual relations and women’s lack of economic empowerment relate directly to patterns of poverty and enhanced vulnerability for women. There is need to challenge adherence to male-dominated traditions of property ownership and confront the continuation of gender biases, stereotypes and myths as conduits to the enhanced women’s empowerment and their long struggle for equality and justice.

According to Dr Shasha Kumar, a private practicing reproductive health expert based in Mombasa, accepted gender norms for women also drive poor health outcomes. Women and girls, for their part, are socialized to be relatively passive, to be uninformed and uneducated regarding sexual and reproductive health. Moreover, socially condoned behaviors and norms reinforce passivity and discourage women from participating fully in school, in community life or in the formal economy.

In my view the basis and issues linked with men’s use of violence against women and prevent inequality are numerous, intricate and intertwined. Clearly, the reasons or underlying factors related to men’s violence against women are deeply rooted in the social construction of masculinity.  Men’s violence against women is frequently seen as a valid form of expression for men, who may not be socially allowed or encouraged to express emotions in other ways

As depravity, inequality and exploitation against women and girls continue, most organizations and institutions in Kenya have failed to develop effective approaches to work with men and boys especially those from the Muslim fraternity. In my view, Sexual- and Gender based violence (SGBV) is a fundamental violation of human rights, it amounts to a national health crisis, and it is a serious obstacle to development in Kenya. GBV contributes to other major challenges such as the spread of HIV and AIDS, maternal mortality, and a multigenerational cycle of poverty. This hinders millions of women Kenya from fully enjoying their human rights and achieving optimum fulfilment.


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