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Until revealed in times of conflict, it can be hard to realize the extent to which a culture suppresses women’s rights. As a teenager in Kenya, I became desensitized enough that reports of violence against women out of drunkenness or because of slight misdemeanors failed to draw more than a sigh from me. But the turmoil of Kenya’s post-election period in December 2007 and early 2008 incited abuses to a degree greater than many expected, as women’s rights dissolved together with the civil order.In the first three weeks of post-election violence, Nairobi Women’s Hospital treated 135 sexually assaulted women and children, a small number, relative to the estimates of raped women who never come for treatment. At first, violence reflected the ethnic tensions revealed in the capital, as a new party known for its appeal to a wide range of Kenyans, sought to replace the ruling party, mostly of the Kikuyu tribe, a dominant group since British colonialism. Violence and gang rape, however, escalated into a general license to act with impunity. According to the United Nations Population Fund, roving gangs, bolstered by frustrated people, used sexual violence to terrorize women of different ethnic backgrounds.The atrocities revealed a pattern that is all too clear the world over: when social, economic and moral systems fail in times of political turmoil, women’s rights are among the first to suffer.As I watched the situation “back home” degenerate from the safety of my college dorm, I could not help but hold onto the hope I felt for Kenya. Despite ignorance and stigma that beautiful country, within the framework of a peaceful government, progress can and has been made towards a more tolerant society. I remember how I personally became enraged about the state of women’s rights when I learned about the controversy caused by Kenya’s first legislation against sexual offenses in 2006. It was hard to believe that passing such a bill, which provided a pathway for girls to report abuses from their teachers and gave raped women rights as victims, could evoke such strong emotions, or that the bill’s passage was hardly perceived as common sense. Yet it faced opposition from both men and women, some of whom called the female Members of Parliament “home breakers.” Even once a diluted version of the bill passed, there remained a vast challenge to bring women and communities to the point where they understood women’s rights, and felt comfortable pursuing them. To me, the struggle revealed a fight against some ever-present mindsets, lurking just beneath the surface of even the most cosmopolitan city in the nation. Yet, relative political harmony at the time created an environment that helped mindsets change and women’s rights take one step forward.Many Kenyans were uncomfortable with discussing sexual offenses, a reality that indicates that their society does not instinctively protect women’s rights, at least as advocates may see them. Thus, when political turmoil destabilizes entire communities, women suffer easily. In addition, political turmoil affects women’s rights in more than purely physical ways. Women and children bear the brunt of food shortages, of health care limitations and many other services normally available in a stable society. Women throughout Kenya were torn out of their communities because of the confusion. Often displaced in refugee camps, they were not given appropriate protection, and lived in fear of attack by people who could act with impunity. The upheaval also compromised women’s economic power. For example, many women had to solely provide for their families while their husbands were recruited to fight. Whatever usual means of self-subsistence women had were often taken over by men who themselves lost out in the disorder.Just as it was necessary to fight for the sexual offenses bill, women in Kenya have recently been fighting to become a more integral part of the peace process. Led by Josephine Ojiambo in February 2008, women leaders articulated that women’s interests could only be appropriately represented if the peace deals brokered between the two parties also allocated a position for specifically for women. Women in Kenya’s politics face enormous challenges and are notoriously under-represented. It was up to women like Ojiambo to also express the need to give the power and authority to Kenyans to bring perpetrators, who killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands more-disproportionably women, to justice. Hundreds of women also demonstrated peacefully in the streets. If a society is to treat everyone equally, then in its most important days of reevaluation and policy building, it must also take women into its confidence.Hearing back from people living in Kenya, tensions are still palpable, one month after reaching peace between parties. The nation needs systematic re-integration, reconciliation and recovery. The dynamics between ethnicity, clan and class have dramatically changed. Women still bore the brunt, but women still rebound for positive change.In the six and a half years that I lived in Kenya, perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that not everything is as simple as it seems; many perspectives can provide as many solutions. Reconciliation of viewpoints demands cooperation, alternative explanations and creative solutions. Maybe this can apply to women’s rights and political turmoil in Kenya as well. Progressive societies acknowledge its many factions, and incorporate many different ideas. Just as Kenya reached peace through negotiations and power-sharing between the two parties, so too can women initiate the dialogue with men, fight for the rights they are entitled to. They can help heal the nation, and empower themselves in the process, so that, should any further turmoil occur, there will be no one left to allow women’s rights slide.