Dozens of elderly women in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi are partaking in self-defense classes to arm themselves and their community against sex offenders. According to the Telegraph, the women are learning a mixture of karate, kung-fu, and taekwondo from 29-year-old Sheila Kariuki.
Maclean reports that 223 out of 2,300 rape cases registered in 2009 involved women older than 60 who are seen as easy targets, according to the Gender Recovery Center of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital.
According to sparring instructor Julius Maina, “Guys here are desperate. They don’t have jobs, women, or kids. Many spend their days drinking, and at night they might become really dangerous.”
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The self-defense class consists of more than 20 women, aged between 80 to 100 years old who meet once a week at the Streams of Hope and Peace charity training center. The not-for profit group, which was founded nine years ago, aims to protect the women by teaching them how to protect themselves.
“You do not need to hit hard to be accurate. Accuracy is the key to the technique,” Kariuki tells the women.
Accuracy in this context involves targeting the most vulnerable body parts of the assailant the nose, chin, collarbone, and private parts.
“Remember, your goal is to force back the attackers and attract attention. Never try to compete with younger guys, because they will win,” she adds.
The martial arts instructor says she’s not worried the strenuous self-defense classes will over exert the women, many of whom are grandmothers.
Instead, the training sessions have energized and empowered the women who are now confident that their self-defense skills will keep them safe from predators who terrorize the community of more than 150,000 inhabitants.
Issues Caused By Rural-to-Urban Migration
According to a 2015 report by the International Organization for Migration, Kenya’s population will increase to more than. 50 million by 2020, with increasingly more people relocating from rural areas to cities.
“As the population moves from rural to urban areas in search of economic opportunities, informal settlements or slums are likely to emerge though they will be disadvantaged with regard to morbidity, mortality, access to health services, and risky sexual behaviors,” notes the report.
Other factors for migration include high unemployment rates, which in 2014 stood at 17.7 percent, according to the World Bank.
These factors are consistent with another report in 2010 by Amnesty International, which notes that there are four main slums in Kenya that have risen due to rural-to-urban migration. These include Mathare, Mukuru kwa Njenga, Kibera, and Korogocho that are home to more than 1 million people.
Life in these slums is characterized by poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and violence. Though law enforcement exists to curb the insecurity posed, their presence is rarely felt by the most vulnerable members of the community: women and children. The 2014 Kenya Health Demographic survey notes that 14 percent of women aged 15 to 49 years old have experienced sexual violence.
It is against this context that the story of these elderly women, colloquially referred to as “karate grannies,” aptly serves as a case study of hope and self-determination.