Written by Reuben Kyama
A Kenyan lawmaker was charged with assault Friday, accused of hitting a female colleague who told police he struck her for failing to give money to his constituency, Kenyan officials and local news reports said.
The male lawmaker, Rashid Amin, a member of Parliament from Wajir East in northeast Kenya, was arrested late Thursday night after Rep. Fatuma Gedi reported that she had been hit in the face so hard that she bled from the mouth, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported.
Gedi is a member of the budget and appropriation committee. The episode occurred in the parking lot of the Parliament buildings, she told police.
In court Friday in Milimani, Amin denied the charge and was freed after posting bail of 50,000 shillings, or about $487. He could not be reached for comment.
The lawmaker was questioned for two hours about the encounter, The Daily Nation reported. The attacker “allegedly punched Ms. Gedi in her face twice, leaving her bleeding, before he was held back” by a fellow lawmaker, the newspaper added.
Another lawmaker posted an image on Twitter of Gedi with tears running down her cheeks and blood trickling from her mouth.
The slap has set off angry reactions from a cross-section of Kenyans.
When word of the slap got out, female members of Parliament chanted in Parliament, “Arrest, Rashid,” and walked out during a budget meeting this week in protest, according to video footage shared on social media.
Some male colleagues could be seen laughing. A member of Parliament, Sabina Wanjiru Chege, later told BBC Focus on Africa that male colleagues had made fun of their female counterparts in Parliament over the attack.
“Some of our male colleagues started mocking us and saying it was slapping day,” she was quoted as saying.
The episode comes amid a rise in gender-based violence in Kenya, according to Wangechi L. Wachira, the executive director of the Center for Rights Education and Awareness. In recent months, she said, up to 52 cases have been reported in the news media, “including the violence meted out to women leaders.”
The authorities in Kenya have pointed to the creation of a national commission on gender and equality as an example of a stated policy to deal with gender-based violence.
“In terms of national laws, the laws are there,” Wachira said. “What remains is the full implementation of such laws.”
In a statement, the country’s National Gender and Equality Commission condemned the attack “in the strongest terms possible.”
“We urge relevant law enforcement arms of government to move with speed and ensure justice is served and guarantee the safety and security of Ms. Gedi,” the commission said.
Joyce Mutinda, the commission’s chairwoman, said, “This is the height of intolerance that reeks of sheer arrogance punctuated by total disrespect for women and venerated public spaces of honor.”
She said in a statement that Amin “must be told that he cannot use his elevated office to assault honorable or ordinary members of the public, especially when they are pursuing legitimate issues of public interest.”
Many Kenyans also took to Twitter to condemn the attack.
“I feel so upset that a male Member of Parliament could attack a female colleague within the precincts of parliament,” said Fiona Kirimi, a 21-year-old student, adding, “It portrays a bad example in the society, where women should be protected.”