Christine Kung’u, a master of laws candidate, has always seen the world through feminist eyes. Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, she realized at an early age that women weren’t treated as equals and questioned the domestic violence that was prevalent in her community. “It wasn’t a secret when someone’s wife was getting beaten,” she says. “I’d talk to my mom and grandmother and ask why this was the case.”
After graduating from the University of Nairobi’s law school, Kung’u worked as a legal officer and project co-ordinator at the Women’s Rights Awareness Programme in Nairobi. It was there she came to understand why women weren’t fighting back. Kung’u learned that the money and time it takes to prosecute (a court case can drag on for years), along with the stereotype of a wife as sexual property, were often impossible to overcome.
Kung’u plans to return to Kenya after graduating from U of T and gaining some work experience in North America. She hopes to open a shelter for women and children, and offer services such as legal aid, legal education and advocacy work. Kung’u is writing her thesis on the criminalization of marital rape in Kenya – which is not a sexual offense in the country. “It’s a norm,” she says. “In Kenya, when a woman gets married she gives ongoing consent to have sexual relations with her husband. If she refuses to have sex with him, she might be beaten up and forced.”
While working as a legal officer in Kenya, Kung’u repeatedly saw women try to escape their abusive spouses only to later return to them. This has informed her belief that criminalizing marital rape is necessary, but stereotypes about married women and the sexual relationship within the marriage also need to be addressed. She knows change won’t be easy, but says: “If I don’t help, I won’t make a difference.”