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Virginia Nduta is the Executive Director of Women Empowerment Link.

Kenya

International Day of Peace: Women must speak out against Gender-Based Violence

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 21- She has seen it all, lived it and she is now fighting it.

In 2006 when she had just joined Kenyatta University, death struck and took away one of her strongest pillars- her father.

But it is what followed that was more emotionally draining. But she has found a way to march forward with determination.

Virginia Nduta walks undeterred knowing it is possible to have a society where women and girls have embraced their rights and are socially and economically empowered.

Her mother was disinherited by her in-laws…they lost everything but that did not take away her resolve.

“We had to start from scratch,” she recalls the events that followed and even how as a student she had to do menial jobs just to survive.

You see, her father was the family’s sole breadwinner, while the mother was a ‘housewife.’

“By the time my father died, she did not have any skills to enable her to get a formal job,” she said during an interview with Capital News.

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And due “to many reasons” they gave up on everything and started a fresh journey.

It is the agony that her mother went through 14 years ago that triggered passion in her to speak against social vices facing women and girls.

Nduta is now the Executive Director of Women Empowerment Link (WEL), a non-governmental organisation not only working towards empowering women in the country but also seeking to end violence against them.

And as the world marks the International Day of Peace on Monday, she believes “the story” should be localized to the basic unit of Kenya’s society- the family.

“How would the world talk of peace if there is none at home?” she posed. “It is very good to localize this agenda. The Kenyan woman will need to know she has peace at her home.”

And to achieve a violence-free society against women and girls, she believes the National Police Service (NPS) must take a pivotal role.

Through the assistance of the United Kingdom’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, her organisation is working with the police to ensure they offer “survivor-centered services.”

So far, more than 600 police officers, judiciary personnel and community representatives have benefited from the training.

With the police being the first in the chain of justice, she said, the process should be friendly to victims of gender-based violence, but for long, that has not been the case.

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“We have been equipping police officers with knowledge on how to respond to such cases. We are coming from the background of a lot of survivors who have been intimidated by the process of reporting,” she said, “If you are intimidated by the process of going to the police to report any case of violation, then it means there is going to be an impediment to your ultimate access to justice.”

WEL, she said, has worked with police to develop survivors’ friendly standard operating procedures that will ensure their efforts are institutionalized.

“With the UK funding, we have been able to have training and creating champions within the (police) station level and have even training even at the higher level of the police commanders just so as to create a critical mass of police officers who are transformed,” she said.

The partnership, she said, “has been very instrumental in ensuring the standard operating procedures that Women Empowerment Link has developed with the National Police Service and other partners does not just gather dust in the files and that it is not an end, but a living document that the police then take up and are able to implement in the day to day delivery of service.”

-COVID-19 Pandemic and the link to gender violence-

And the need for such services from police and awareness among women and girls is needed, she asserted, particularly now that the country and the world is battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic that struck the country in March, cases of gender violence have been on the rise, a worrying trend that that even caught the attention of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

And if not put to check, Nduta said, the situation could worsen as the country draws closer to the electioneering period, with the elections in 2022.

“When the country is undergoing any form of a pandemic or election, you see that the number of gender-based violence cases really goes high. That calls for organisations to ensure that there are interventions, and such are gender-sensitive,” she said.

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On July 6, the President ordered an investigation into the rising violence against women and girls- that include rape, domestic violence, Female Genital Mutilation, early teenage pregnancies, and child marriages.

“We must always remember that the family is a projection of the state. If the family is under attack, the state is under attack. If the family is weak, the country is weak,” the President said.

In Kenya, 45 per cent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence and 14% of women aged 15-49 have experienced sexual violence, according to statistics by the State Department for Gender.

Justice for victims of gender-based and sexual violence is also hard to achieve in the country due to challenges in collecting evidence, long lead-times for court hearings and community vigilantism against perpetrators.

Her message to the Kenyan woman as the world observes the International Day of Peace is “speak out.”

The UN General Assembly has declared September 21 as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.

The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly.

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