BY SCOTT GRATION
Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that cuts across ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, and religion. It can threaten women and girls at any point in their life—from female infanticide and inadequate access to education to child marriage, incest, and so-called “honor” killings. It can take the form of domestic violence, rape (including spousal rape), sexual exploitation and abuse, trafficking in persons, or the neglect and ostracism of widows. One in three women around the world experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime.
In Kenya, almost 40 percent of women have suffered physical violence at some point after age 15, with two-thirds reporting that the perpetrator was a current or former husband or partner.
This year, we again mark “Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence,” commencing on November 25 with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ending on December 10 with International Human Rights Day. This is an opportunity to highlight and promote effective programs that are already successfully mitigating violence against women while increasing accountability by community and government leaders on this issue.
The US Government partners with many local organisations in Kenya working to eradicate gender-based violence and provide services to the victims. Just last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness launched the second phase of the Gender-Based Violence Program in Kibera, that provides case management and legal services to those affected by gender-based violence in one of Nairobi’s neediest communities.
USAID’s $600,000 (Sh57 million) grant will raise awareness and empower women to speak out and seek help when confronted with gender-based violence. It will also bring together male advocates in the community working to end the culture and cycle of abuse.
These sixteen days are a sobering reminder that gender-based violence cannot be treated solely as a women’s issue. More than just an affront to human rights and dignity, gender-based violence adversely impacts the welfare of our communities. When women and girls are abused, businesses close, incomes shrink, families go hungry, and children grow up internalising behavior that perpetuates the cycle of violence. Men and boys are the key to turning around the negative attitudes that render women and girls undervalued and vulnerable. Their engagement is necessary to overcome the impunity that too often leaves the most egregious perpetrators unaccountable for their crimes.
No country or part of the world is immune to the costs of gender-based violence.
In the United States, for example, the cost of violence against women exceeds $5.8 billion per year. In a time of strained budgets, some may say efforts at intervention are prohibitively expensive. Although investing resources in the prevention and prosecution of acts of aggression against women may cost money upfront, the investment pays enormous dividends in the long run. The United States’ Violence Against Women Act, which strengthened efforts to investigate and prosecute such crimes, has saved more than $16 billion since its enactment in 1994.
In Kenya to date, post rape care services have been integrated in twenty-three health facilities (one national hospital, three provincial hospitals, and nineteen district hospitals). We need to expand the number of facilities that can provide these vital services. We also need to work hard to make sure that the next generation of Kenyan women grows up free from violence and that these services are ultimately not needed.
The sixteen days offer an opportunity to renew the commitment to free women and girls from the nightmare of violence, whether the abuse occurs in the home behind closed doors, down the street of our own neighborhood, or on distant shores. A country cannot progress when half its population is marginalised, mistreated, and subjected to discrimination. When women and girls are granted their rights and afforded equal opportunities in education, healthcare, employment, and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities, and their nations. As Secretary Clinton recently noted, “investing in the potential of the world’s women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women—and men—the world over.”
(Gration is the US ambassador to Kenya)