Elderly Woman in Kenya Learns Self-Defense to Deal with Sexual Assault

In Korogocho, one of the largest slum neighborhoods in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, a group of elderly women are seen learning taekwondo. This is part of a movement to defend oneself from sexual assault. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenyan authorities say cases of rape and sexual harassment have increased, with the health department reporting that they have received at least 5,000 cases of sexual assault across the country.

In an alley in the slum neighborhood of Korogocho in Kenya, 15 women, mostly elderly, take taekwondo classes at an abandoned community center.

In the hall of the community center, the 15 women, wearing headscarves and long skirts, with their bare hands, punched a pocket filled with used clothes.

Korogocho, in Swahili meaning “solid”, is one of the largest slums in Nairobi. The area has a dense population and high unemployment.

The lack of prospects and a definite future makes many teenagers vulnerable to joining gangs that can get them involved in crimes including rape.

Jane Wakene, 76, center, performs jumping jacks as punishment for arriving late to a taekwondo self-defense class for women in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, September 16, 2021.

Jane Wakene, 76, center, performs jumping jacks as punishment for arriving late to a taekwondo self-defense class for women in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, September 16, 2021.

The purpose of providing taekwondo training is to provide protection for women from these sexual attacks.

Every Thursday at two o’clock in the afternoon, 15 women between the ages of 60-80, meet to practice taekwondo.

The oldest woman in the oti taekwondo class is Wambui Njoroge, who is believed to be 110 years old.

This is a somber reminder that women are vulnerable to sexual predators.

Jane Waithaigeni Gabriel Kimaru, 60, coach and head of the team said, “You don’t need a lot of energy, just self-defense, to protect yourself and run away. You don’t have to beat them (attackers), you just have to surprise them, and before the assailant regains consciousness, you must escape.”

Those who come late to the taekwondo class will be punished by having to do sit up.

In Korogocho, there is a high percentage of widows and single mothers, who have the tough task of raising children under difficult conditions.

Older women experience higher levels of sexual harassment because they are perceived as weak by their perpetrators.

Jane Waithageni Kimaru (60), group leader (center left) and others train during a taekwondo self-defense class for women in the Korogocho slum area in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, September 16, 2021.

Jane Waithageni Kimaru (60), group leader (center left) and others train during a taekwondo self-defense class for women in the Korogocho slum area in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, September 16, 2021.

Part of the training required them to be able to scream when attacked, to make sure their voices could be heard.

The strategy is used to notify other members who are in the vicinity, if they experience sexual assault.

Authorities say, in most cases, the perpetrator was someone close to the victim and did not believe that harassment was a crime.

Esther Wambui, 72, who lives in Korogocho said, “When you look at me, you might think, I’m a fool, a stupid old woman, but you will see who I really am.” [lj/uh]

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