These grandmas aren't letting criminals get the best of them.
In a tiny neighborhood in a small Kenyan city, 20 elderly women meet in a hot room every week.
Surrounded by punching bags and like-minded participants, these women are all there to accomplish one mission:
Instead of letting rape and hyper-masculinity run rampant in their neighborhood, elderly women in Kenya are learning the art of kung fu as a tool to fight back.
The plan is simple. Women ages 60-85 gather in a small room in Korogocho, a disadvantaged neighborhood outside Nairobi. With only a plastic cover to protect them from the sun, the woman take turns practicing self-defense on a punching bag, encouraging each other along the way.
"You don't need to hit hard to be accurate," Sheila Kariuki, the 29-year-old teacher leader of the group, told The Telegraph. "Accuracy is the key to the technique."
Kariuki spends the class demonstrating the vulnerable points on a male body, such as the collarbone, nose, and genitalia. The women are taught techniques such as yelling instead of screaming to maintain a sense of control and not worrying about how much force a blow to the rapist’s body has, but rather making sure they get a proper punch to the body.
“Our program does make a difference. We have testimonies of old women now able to defend themselves using verbal or physical techniques," Kariuki told The Telegraph.
Kariuki holds the class on a volunteer basis about once a week. It began in 2007, when young criminals began raping women up to four times their age. Kariuki, trained in self-defense techniques developed by feminists during the 1970s, took it upon herself to teach the seniors that fighting back is an option.
Roughly 155,000 residents live in Korogocho, which is about 11 kilometers outside Nairobi's city center.
As in many other struggling neighborhoods, the women in the area are at higher risk of rape, adding another layer to the ongoing fight against devastating HIV/AIDS statistics in Kenya. HIV/AIDS is the #1 cause of death in the nation. An estimated 1.4 million people are living with HIV, and new infections continue to make the movement against eradicating the spread of the virus from society difficult.
Rape culture only enhances the epidemic in disadvantaged areas such as Korogocho.
Because so many rapes go unreported, the statistics of rape in Kenya vary widely.
According to a 2006 report from Kenya’s national commission on human rights, a girl or woman is raped every 30 minutes. Many young orphans are especially vulnerable because of a commonly held belief that sex with a virgin — in a typical rapist's mind, a young child — is a cure for AIDS. This disturbing train of thought also influences these men to target grandmothers, as they assume they aren’t as sexually active as middle-aged women.
This incorrect and dismal ideology continues to be the thought process for many male criminals in more underdeveloped areas.
This ideology doesn’t only affect countries like Kenya, though.
We experience its effects in the United States, too, because rape culture isn't a problem that's exclusive to one part of the world.
But the ways we fight back against this culture matter.
In the U.S., we have to put signs up in bars to offer protection for women, rethink how we talk about consent in classrooms, and reprimand a major-party presidential nominee’s views on women to fight sexual assault and rape statistics that plague developed countries, as well. In Kenya, women learn kung fu.
By teaching consent to men and women at an early age, making laws that make it easier for people to feel safe reporting rape and sexual assault and empowering men and women around the globe to protect their bodies, we can help end rape culture.
Women like Kariuki and the women she teaches are empowering themselves in their classes every week.
They want to make sure rape culture isn’t the standard for Kenyan women’s lives, and that's inspiring.
Through discipline and mutual female support, these grandmas are taking back their identity and right to live peacefully, one punch at a time.