By Elizabeth Mbula
NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 22 – Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), a Non-Governmental Organisation that promotes human rights through journalism is alarmed by the increased cases of Gender-Based Violence in the country as demonstrated by statistics released by the government on Thursday.
JHR, a media development organisation based in Canada, that runs the Voice for Women and Girls’ Rights (VWGR) project in Kenya said the statistics showing a 36 per cent spike in Gender-Based Violence in 2020 is alarming hence the need to find lasting solutions to protect women and girls who are the most vulnerable in society.
“GBV destroys the recipient to the core, it maims and kills and worse of all, it has become normalized in our society. There is need to put in place both structural and legal measures to address it,” said Winnie Syombua, a Gender Lead at JHR, “It should be declared a National scourge, based on the numbers we see today.”
Statistics released on Thursday by the Ministry of Public Service and Gender show that 5,009 cases were recorded between January and December 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ministry’s Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia said the cases represented an increase of 1,411 compared to cases reported in 2019. Nairobi, Kakamega, Kisumu, Nakuru and Kiambu counties accounted for most of the cases.
“The findings of the study established that the number of Gender-Based Violence cases reported between January and June 2020 had an increase of 92 percent compared to previous year same period,” Kobia said.
The most common forms of Gender-Based Violence identified were physical assault, rape and attempted rape, murder, defilement, grievous harm, child neglect and psychological torture.
As a result of the alarming cases, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the National Crime Research Centre to carry out a study to establish the causes of the incidents which shot up in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic when a partial lockdown was imposed.
The study released Thursday highlighted alcohol, drug and substance abuse, poverty, family disputes and moral decadence among triggers of GBV.
JHR’s Syombua however, said the figures released Thursday could be much more based on statistics by other organisations like the Kenya Integrated Health Management System.
“Although we see a 36% increase, the numbers could be higher because the stigma associated with the vice and the secrecy surrounding it prevents victims from reporting cases, making it difficult to paint an accurate picture of the prevalence and severity of gender violence overall,” she said, “This means that’s those who chose not to go public about their ordeals, were unable to find space or time away from an abuser to reach out for help, or else saw no hope or available solutions.”
According to Syombua, the figures released Thursday, even though not reflective of the situation on the ground are still alarming hence the need to “declare it a national scourge.”
Judy Kaberia, a Gender Media Trainer at Journalists for Human Rights’ Voice for women and Girls’ Rights said the cases are alarming. “Creating awareness is crucial to focus on prevention. Otherwise, these cases are getting out of hand and that’s why the strategy has to change and focus on prevention.”
Retrogressive cultural beliefs and practices and identity crisis among the youthful population were also cited in Thursday’s report as contributing factors.
As part of measures to de-escalate the cases, the Ministry of Gender provided a national GBV helpline 1195, national police helpline and child helpline to allow for anonymous reporting, assistance to survivors and to get referrals for medical and legal services to GBV victims.
Through the National Government Affirmative Action, 36 GBV shelters operated by Civil Society Organizations have been established in 13 counties of Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, Kwale, Samburu, Kajiado, Murang’a, Laikipia, Kiambu, Nyeri, Meru, Machakos and Makueni.
Kobia said despite the interventions by the government, there still remained some ground to be covered, and urged everyone to be involved in preventing GBV.
She said shortcomings included reporting incidences, supporting victims, speaking out against harmful and retrogressive cultural beliefs and practices.
“I wish to appeal to all members of the public to join hands to end this vice before it becomes a normal in violating human rights,” Kobia said.