Time to step up against gender-based violence

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Three years ago, a rape incident in Busia, involving a teenage girl “Liz” sent widespread shock to Kenya and the world. The nature of the assault was graphic and the public outrage that ensued was instrumental in agitating for justice. Since then a number of other similar cases have been reported by the local media with equal condemnation.

The international and local integration of gender based violence (GBV) into the general human rights treaties is a progressive step. Importantly, the spectrum of what constitutes gender-based violence is now expanded and includes acts that inflict physical, psychological or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivation of liberty.

Majority of gender based violence often go unreported or largely unrecognised. The Kenya Demographic Health Survey, 2014 found that nearly half of the female population (45pc) has experienced physical violence since age 15. Equally damning, 40pc of women aged between 15 and 49 who had once been married, suffered either physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner or spouse.

Research by the Nairobi Women’s Hospital Trust, Gender Based Violence Recovery Centre estimated the costs of treating a single case of gender-based violence at Sh56,000. This translates to Sh392,000 per week and to more than Sh20.3 million annually. It is believed that neither victims are left to bear the brunt of the huge medical bills and the court are failing to support in the pursuit for compensation.

In the County Government of Mombasa, the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH) records on average two defilement survivors every day, 8 during weekends.

Although forms of violence affect women disproportionately, young boys and men are not spared either. Reports indicate that 40pc of men aged between 15 and 49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence. A UNICEF/GoK Violence against Children study conducted in 2010 indicated that 4.2pc of boys in Kenya had experienced an episode of sexual violence in the year before the study.

Despite the enactment of the Marriage Act which outlaws child marriage and imposes stiff penalties to perpetrators, the practice is still rampant in rural areas. In most cases, parents marry off their children, particularly girls, as young as 14 due to the stigma associated with teen pregnancies and children being born out of wedlock. Many children are also married to enable a family to escape the pangs of poverty.

This menace is exacerbated by weak investigative processes, harmful cultural practices and norms, and a Society that normalizes GBV.

It is for one reason that gender-based violence in its varied forms continues to afflict the world- silence. Victimization of survivors and stigma hinders the few who are bold enough to step forward and report their accusers.

However, each one of us in the society are culpable in maintaining the silence. When was the last time someone stepped in to stop catcalling? Have we ever helped report a domestic abuse case? How long shall we pretend that our relatives don’t participate in female genital mutilation?

It is time to say enough is enough.

The robust set of laws and acts prohibiting various forms of gender-based violence is only useful if society is active in enforcing them. That’s why the Ministry of Public Affairs, Youth and Gender is asking Kenyans from all walks of life to Step Up/Jitokeze and eliminate GBV.

The Ministry’s new campaign the 5P GOK-UN GBV program is a five-pronged approach that encompasses: enhancing prevention by seeking to change negative structural and societal attitudes, beliefs, and GBV practices; improving protection of survivors by strengthening the environment sat national and county levels that are conducive to the protection of survivors; strengthening prosecution through enhancing institutional management and capacity of duty bearers in prosecution , institutionalizing programming and consolidating partnerships.

It will take all of us to get the work done. To make public spaces safer, to be each other’s keeper’s, to speak up, to step up when we witness any form of sexual, physical or verbal abuse. We must see ourselves as ‘Liz’ did when she chose to share her story. She said, “Me and my family are fighting for justice.”

What have you done today?

(The Author is Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs)

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