For Kenya's Elite Female Runners, a Brutal Price to Pay

'New Yorker' explores the gender-based violence they face at home
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2023 10:08 AM CDT
Two Elite Female Kenyan Runners Killed in 6 Months
In this 2019 photo, Agnes Tirop of Kenya smiles after winning the women's 1500-meter race at the IAAF Diamond League meeting at Stockholm Olympic Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden. She was murdered in 2021.   (Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency via AP, File)

Agnes Tirop was found murdered in October 2021. Six months later, Damaris Mutua was strangled to death. Both women were in their 20s and killed in the same town of Iten, Kenya. But they had something more telling in common: Both were elite runners on the world stage. At the New Yorker, Alexis Okeowo explores how this came to be, the root of the problem being pervasive gender-based violence in Kenya. In both murders, the women's male partners are the suspects (in Tirop's case, her husband; in Mutua's, her boyfriend). And as the story explains, their deaths fit into a larger, troubling pattern: Women make it big on the world stage, and the men in their lives attempt to take control of their lives and money in the patriarchal culture.

"The trend is that these young girls get into ‘relationships’ with older athletes or trainers who offer them protection against other predators,” says Sarah Ochwada, a lawyer who specializes in domestic-violence cases involving athletes. “But over time, it’s those same protectors who begin to abuse them.” The story digs into the details of the recent murders but also explains the rich history of running in Kenya and how the mountainous small town of Iten "has become, by some measures, the running capital of the world." Top runners live and train there, drawing the aforementioned predators. Not much hope is seen in the nation's current laws to protect women, but the director of an advocacy group for women is hopeful that a grass-roots movement to change the culture is working. Read the full story. (Or read other notable longform stories.)

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