The Struggle for Our Dignity

By: Nebila Abdulmelik, Women Deliver Young Leader

As reports and videos emerged of women being stripped naked in public in both Kenya and Tanzania, activists and citizens of conscience began organizing around a campaign, #MyDressMyChoice which was also trending online. A protest was organized on November 17, in which hundreds of us took to the streets to protest the indignity and the violence that was faced by the women, as well as the affront to personal safety, security and choice.

Contrary to what was reported in some media outlets, this was not a ‘mini-skirt march’. Most of the protesters were not wearing mini-skirts – but that’s not the point. In fact, the video of another woman being stripped did not show that she was wearing a mini-skirt, but rather jeans. We also know that women all over the world – whether they’re dressed in long skirts, abaya’s, buy buys, or burkas – still get harassed and abused on a daily basis. Whether or not women are ‘dressed appropriately’ doesn’t seem to prevent violence or the affront to our bodies. What is at stake is the bodily dignity, integrity, and autonomy that each and every human being is entitled to. 

During the protest, we were encouraged by our numbers, as well as by the seemingly emerging political will – with Vice President William Ruto coming out to demand the arrest of the perpetrators. Out on the streets, we chanted, ‘What do we want?’ ‘RESPECT!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘NOW!’. About an hour into our march, we were joined by rowdy men, who while pushing and shoving us aggressively, told us to put on some clothes. They snatched placards and banner from our hands. One I was holding read, ‘Our Bodies are not Your Battlefields’, and seemed particularly offensive to them.

Perhaps they felt they owned our bodies, and could decide what we did with them and how we clothed them. It was ironic that as we took to the streets to speak out against violence, to assert our right to our bodies and to safety, we were being harassed for doing so. It made the struggle so much more real and pertinent.

I was at least heartened that our brothers marched with us women and stood by us to assert our right to our bodies – to freedom, dignity, justice and respect – which are non-negotiable. I believe that ultimately, this is what we all must stand for. We have two choices: we can either take a stand, or take a seat. I would much rather stand – and I hope you would rather do the same as well.

Note: Nebila Abdulmelik and Women Deliver have chosen not to link to any videos mentioned in the above blog out of respect and privacy to the women attacked.

Nebila Abdulmelik is currently the Head of Communications at FEMNET, a pan-African organization working to advance the rights of women and girls in Africa since inception in 1988. Nebila is a Pan-Africanist and a feminist passionate about social justice. She is also a poet who uses her poetry to speak her peace. Connect with her @aliben86 or

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