160 Girls shine a light on women’s rights

By: Jennifer Pretty Feb 14, 2012
160 Girls

I first came across the story of the 160 Girls project on Martin Luther King Day. It seems appropriate that a holiday celebrating a leader who became the voice for millions of oppressed people has led me to discover a present day fight for human rights.

This fight is taking place in Kenya, in East Africa. In this country, as in many others across the African continent, the incidence of rape has reached shocking levels. Equally horrifying is the low rate at which these crimes are reported and the perpetrators prosecuted for their crimes.

The numbers speak for themselves. In Kenya, a woman or a girl is raped every 30 minutes. For nearly 25 percent of young girls between the ages of 12 and 24, their first sexual experience will come from being raped. Up to 70 percent of the women who are raped in Kenya will not report the crime, and their attackers will go unpunished. 

Officially, the 160 Girls project is a legal initiative seeking redress and accountability from the Kenyan government. At its heart, the project is looking to change the culture of a country in which women are seen as inferior and too often treated as the property of their families, and later their husbands. In this culture, victims of rape may be ostracized because they are no longer seen as valuable by their families. Frequently, the victims are considered to be equally at fault with their attackers and shunned as criminals.

Both old and relatively new elements of Kenyan culture are also driving the perpetrators of these crimes. The entrenched attitude that women are property leads some men to pursue sex with very young girls and virgins as a way of proving their virility. Even more dangerous, in some ways, is the now widespread belief in Kenya that having sex with a virgin girl is a way to cure HIV/AIDS. This belief is now exposing rape victims to risks even greater than the physical and emotional trauma, to which they were already subjected, and continuing rather than preventing the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In Kenya, laws protecting women from rape are in place but rarely enforced. Many girls do not know where or how to report the crime, or are prevented from doing so by their families. Many police officers do not know the correct procedure for a rape investigation, and even the crimes that are reported rarely lead to prosecution. 

The 160 Girls project began in Canada as the brainchild of four human rights lawyers. It sits under the umbrella of the Equality Effect, a charitable organization seeking to improve the lives of oppressed women and girls across the globe. The 160 Girls initiative is suing the government of Kenya, in the name of 160 girls who have been victims of rape. These girls, with the help of their legal counsel, are looking to force the government to enforce the anti-rape laws that already exist. By taking this action, the project attacks a culture that has victimized its women for generations, and forces it to acknowledge the rights of women and girls or face legal consequences.

To learn more, or to donate to this cause please click here.  


Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!


Jennifer Pretty began her career as the director of artist development for a well-known Canadian music label. Branching out on her own, she then started her own PR business “Pretty Media Management” planning and hosting various charity, entertainment and fashion events. As a dance and fitness class enthusiast Jennifer is a firm believer in the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. She also loves to cook, travel, spend time with family and friends and most importantly living life to the fullest!