"When women say 'No,' they mean 'Yes'"

A Kenyan M.P. explains it all.

Page Rockwell
April 28, 2006 4:00PM (UTC)

Rape cases in the U.S. are too often derailed by defense attorneys' attempts to damage plaintiff credibility with irrelevant sexual-history details and other so-called character information. But at least it's relatively rare for public figures to openly assert that women say no when they mean yes. (Though U.S. lawmakers scare us on the issue of women's rights in plenty of other ways.) Whereas in Kenya on Thursday, Minister of Parliament Paddy Ahenda said women are "God's creatures," suggested that stronger sex-crime laws could lead to false rape claims and a decrease in courtship and marriage, and claimed that "in our culture, when women say 'No,' they mean 'Yes' unless it's a prostitute." And apparently he knows whereof he speaks, since he said he remembers having to "sweet-talk a shy creature into marriage." (What's with all this creature-speak? Is his wife a horse?)

Ahenda may well have a point about Kenya's cultural mores. But while policy- and lawmakers should consider how the nation's gender roles and courtship rituals might interact with proposed legislation, the need for cultural sensitivity isn't much of a reason not to enact an anti-rape law. If politicians are concerned that women lack sufficient status to refuse consent, isn't that all the more reason to pass such a law? Plus, this may be a translation quirk or a semantic quibble, but I'm really unthrilled about Ahenda's referring to a prostitute as "it."


Awesomely, two of Kenya's female M.P.s walked out of the session to protest Ahenda's remark. M.P. Njoki Ndungu, who previously "told parliament that two Kenyan women were raped every hour and accused the police of being lax in prosecuting rapists," advocated fiercely for the bill despite opposition from Ahenda and his sympathizers, reminding them that rape has nothing to do with sex.

Kenyan newspaper the Nation also reported that hundreds of mothers and children demonstrated in support of the bill before police broke up their protest. If their chilling slogan doesn't prove the country is in need of stronger prohibitions against rape, I don't know what could -- protesters were chanting: "Kill us, so that at least you do not have to rape us tomorrow."

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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