Health facilities should be places of safety and care. They should stand for human dignity, bodily integrity, and personal wellbeing. At Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi, Kenya, this is far from the reality.
On the 19th of January, allegations of rape and negligence at the hospital were first raised on social media. According to the anonymous complaints posted on Facebook, morgue attendants were sexually assaulting new mothers at night as they moved from the maternity ward to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to nurse their preterm babies.
For some bizarre reason, the hospital is arranged so that the maternity wards are located on ground floor and 3rd floor, while the NICU is located on 1st floor.
Kenyatta National Hospital, offers three nightly intervals for mothers to nurse their preterm babies: 9pm, 12am, and 3am. Women have been reportedly advised to walk in groups to get to their babies at night, and to avoid using the lifts.
Clearly, the hospital staff has been aware of the safety threat posed to new mothers in their facilities. Rather than address the situation through swift and effective measures, management instead displaced the burden of safety onto women themselves. (As usual.)
Kenyan women step forward to fight sexual assault
Since the first allegations broke, more women have stepped forward to share their stories of rape, attempted rape, and other forms of sexual assault committed by morgue attendants.
According to the emerging testimonies, new mothers, some still recovering from caesarean section wounds, have had to regularly climb multiple floors in order to breastfeed their children.
The walks are characterized by long winding corridors that are only used by the women themselves and the hospital staff. These are the same routes that the morgue attendants use at night when they collect bodies from various wards.
Outraged by mounting allegations of sexual assault in the hospital, on January 23rd Kenyan women and civil society representatives marched from Freedom corner to the Ministry of Health and Kenyatta National Hospital to deliver petitions against rape and negligence.
The March, spearheaded by Her Voice Kenya (known for the My Dress My Choice campaign) and the Buyers Beware Facebook community, attracted male and female protesters from all walks of life. Team members from HowToUse joined local SRHR Civil Society organizations in protest.
The attention generated around these allegations drew a sharp reaction from the hospital administration. Hospital CEO Lily Koros Tare has refuted the stories of sexual assault. She argued that no women have yet made a formal report to any of the government agencies tasked with investigating the claims.
Koros wondered why women who have been raped had “refused” to report the incident to the hospital through their suggestion boxes or at the nearest police station. The CEO challenged any survivor of rape to file a formal complaint.
The lack of empathy and poor understanding of rape and rape stigma by the hospital management points to serious gaps in how the government and its agencies deal with cases of rape and other sexual violations in Kenya.
The investigation report released a day after the protest insinuated that the rape allegations were false, and were fueled by a political agenda to sabotage the CEO. Koros is a close ally to the deputy president of Kenya.
Kenyatta National Hospital rethinks its security against rapes
Pressure from women from across Kenya, however, has forced the hospital to rethink its security strategy. In the last few days, the hospital has increased safety along hospital corridors. Management is considering changing the working hours for the morgue attendants, so that they do not coincide with the nursing intervals. There are also plans to reorganize the wards for mothers to be closer to their pre-term babies.
Rape incidents and sexual violations by medical practitioners are not uncommon in Kenya. Women attending HowToUse workshops in Kenya have shared stories of male midwives and nurses violating pregnant women. These male health care workers convince women who are almost due that having sex with them will help open up their cervix for delivery. The practice is normalized in some places.
In other instances, women are violated when seeking safe abortion. Since elective abortion is not allowed by the law, a few medical practitioners take advantage of the women seeking safe services in their clinics.
If you or someone you know is in need of access to a safe abortion, visit our website or contact any of our three provider partners: safe2choose, WomenOnWeb, or WomenHelp. HowToUse pledges to continue fighting for women’s safety and body autonomy, regardless of whether she’s making her way at night to breastfeed her infant, or if she is seeking safe options to exercise her right to choose.