In the back streets of a Korogocho slum in Kenya, 15 women, many of them grandmothers, signed up for taekwondo lessons twice a week at a dilapidated community center.
At the Korogocho community hall, women dressed in scarves and long skirts punch with bare fists bags full of old clothes made like makeshift punching bags.
One after another, the women are seen walking slowly past raw sewage and a pointed metal roof to an open space in Korogocho, a Swahili term meaning “crowded shoulder to shoulder.”
Korogocho is one of the largest slums in Nairobi.
High population and unemployment are rife in the slum.
Lack of prospects and a secure future means that many young people are vulnerable to joining gangs that can lead them to commit crimes, including rape.
The aim of the training sessions is to protect women against such attacks.
Every Thursday at 2 p.m., the fifteen women, mostly between 60 and 80 years old, meet for taekwondo training.
The oldest woman in the class is Wambui Njoroge, who is said to be around 110 years old.
It’s a grim reminder that these women are vulnerable to sexual predators.
“You don’t need a lot of energy, it’s just self-defense; just to protect you and run away. you’re doing it, ”says Jane Waithaigeni Gabriel Kimaru, 60, team leader and trainer.
Those who are late for class are ordered to do sit-ups as punishment, she says.
In Korogocho, there is a high percentage of widows and single mothers who have the heavy task of raising children under difficult conditions.
Older women experience much higher levels of sexual abuse as they are viewed as weaker by abusers.
Part of their training is learning to vocalize their distress during any attack to make sure they are heard.
“No, no, no,” they are told to shout.
The protection strategy is used to alert any member of the public nearby, in the event of an attack.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenyan authorities say cases of rape and sexual abuse have increased. Kenya’s health ministry said it had received reports of at least 5,000 cases of sexual violence across the country, many of whom live in poverty.
Officials say that in many cases the perpetrators are close to the victims and do not believe the abuse is a crime.
“When you look at me you think I’m stupid, you think this old woman is stupid but you will see who I am,” says Esther Wambui Mureithi, 72, who lives in the Korogocho slum.
“And for that this training, that we have been trained here, we have been trained well and for that we are no longer afraid and if you are still afraid the chances for the attacker are high, but if you are well trained , you can defend yourself and the man will be afraid of you because you have been properly trained.