When Women Don’t Live to Tell Their Stories
Photo: nation.co.ke

When Women Don’t Live to Tell Their Stories

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BY NGARE KARIUKI

In 2019 a man hacked a woman to death with an axe. He literally snuck up behind the unsuspecting woman and swung the axe with the ease of someone chopping down firewood.

Before the blood had even cooled or clotted around the lifeless body of 25-year-old Ivy Wangechi, the Kenyan social media scene was already bubbling with theories about the incident.

Some blamed the victim, falsely claimed that she was killed because she infected the killer with HIV. Others speculated, closer to the truth, that this was a love affair gone south. With time, the truth floated to the surface, though looking less scandalous and less click-baity.

The killer lived to talk about it. He almost didn’t make it. Soon after he killed Ivy, a mob of angry onlookers descended on 28-year-old Naftali Kinuthia, beating him within an inch of his life.

I am writing this piece today, a year after an innocent woman’s life was snuffed away so easily, because I am still angered by the fact that the man who killed her lived to tell his story.

Protected by the system

No, I am not saying the mob should have killed him for what he did. My vexation is deeper than cheap and unjust revenge. I am angered by the fact that the same system that ensured the killer lived to tell his side of the story did nothing to ensure his victim got the same opportunity.

Soon after the incident, the system locked the killer away in an undisclosed location — for his safety. On the day of the attack, the system stepped in before the mob delivered its justice — because “that’s not how we do things in Kenya”. The killer is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law — so hold your vengeance.

After whisking him out of the reach of bloodthirsty hands of a mob outside the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, the system gave the killer top-of-the-line care at the very hospital where his victim had been studying medicine.

With armed guards securing all exits and entryways to his room, Naftali was restored to health, at no cost to himself. The system footed the killer’s medical bill, using the monies we faithfully paid in taxes.

I am angry because the only reason we got to hear the killer’s side of the story is because the system has facilitated it — be it wittingly or not. The Eldoret police bosses granted the access or relayed the information that helped us understand Naftali’s side of the story.

The woman is always spoken for

Like many times in the history of man-kind, the man lives to tell his story. As for the woman, we will just have to settle for third party narratives. The woman is, and has always been, spoken for.

We are used to the pattern of women being spoken for: She is someone’s sister, someone’s daughter, someone’s friend. So we will get to hear her side of the story from her brother, her father, her friends, but never from her. 

Like many times in the history of man-kind, the man lives to tell his story. As for the woman, we will just have to settle for third party narratives. The woman is, and has always been, spoken for.

Sadly, we don’t lose sleep over the fact that we only get to hear Ivy’s side of the story from those who loved her because that is how we’ve always ascribed value to the women around us: “Of course I care about women, my mother is a woman!” “Of course I support women’s rights, my sister is a woman!”

The worth of women continues to be weighed on the scale of who they are related to, and never on who they are as individual autonomous beings. The possessive will always accompany their life stories. Just look at the news around Ivy’s life at the moment:

  • “She was an A student. She was hardworking. We normally rate our students as either pass or fail and Wangechi was doing well,” said Prof Lukoye Atwoli, the Dean of the School of Medicine — Ivy’s teacher (Ivy was someone’s student).
  • “She was our classmate. She was beautiful and brilliant. She did quite well in school,” said Ms Vulavu Serena, the class representative (Ivy was someone’s classmate).
  • “The Wangechi we know as our classmate is sociable, considerate and always ready to listen and help. I feel sad when I see people talk so badly about her,” said Mr Rodgers Abidha, her friend (Ivy was someone’s friend).

The list could go on. But the one person we will never quote regarding this incident is Ivy herself. She becomes one more woman silenced forever to only speak through third parties who can never express her true and deepest thoughts.

Ivy will forever be someone’s friend, someone’s daughter, someone’s classmate, her killer’s love interest… but she will never be herself.

Like many women before her who have died or otherwise been silenced at the hands of men who could not respect a woman’s will (or in this case a woman’s won’t), she will never live to tell her story.