By Liz Mbula
NAIROBI, Kenya Jun 10 – Voice for Women and Girls’ Rights-Kenya (VWGR-K) has called for the establishment of more shelters for Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as part of measures to protect them and proper training of law enforcement agencies to handle related cases.
VWGR-K, a project of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) said Kenya lacks sufficient number of shelters and law enforcement agents specifically trained how to handle GBV cases and the victims.
“The reason we see GBV really thriving within our communities and very little being done is because of the poor reporting system that we have at the moment,” said Sammy Muraya, the Programs Director at VWGR-K, “we have a reporting system that sees you going to a police station where you meet police officers who are not well trained to handle GBV cases.”
The poor manner in which victims of GBV are received or handled at police stations matter because it makes them feel insecure and discouraged, particularly when police officers tend to see such cases as mere domestic issues.
“And for me that generally is where the first problem comes in because you can imagine when a victim walks to a place where they are ridiculed by the people who are supposed to to be protecting them,” he said, “we cannot normalise GBV to the extent of telling victims to go sort their issues at home.”
While welcoming the government’s plan to invest Sh2.3 billion towards the prevention of Gender-Based Violence, Muraya said much more must be done to eliminate the cases in the country.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced the plan to increase the funds for the fight against GBV progressively to Shs 5 billion.
Further, the Head of State, said the Government would ratify and implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 on eliminating Gender-Based Violence (GBV), and harassment in the workplace by 2026.
“Indeed, women are the pillar upon which society leans. Women are drivers of family health and welfare; they inculcate values and nurture the young, and they exert a powerful influence on intergenerational outcomes for their children” the President said.
Commenting on the development, Muraya said there was need to ensure some of the funds are spent on setting up shelters or rescue centres for GBV victims despite opposition by some leaders who see them as an admission of failure to prevent the cases.
“So many people, particularly political leaders, have had an issue in establishing rescue centres for GBV because many see this an admission of failure,” Muraya notes, “this is not true.”
“We need these centres because they will make victims feel secure once their rights are violated,” he added. “We are talking about less than five so putting in more money on having more shelters is a starting point.”
Kenya has very few government-funded GBV rescue centres and does not have a specific police unit that deals with gender issues.
The few police officers who are sensitized on gender-related matters do not do it as a full-time job like other units.
“You find that someone has been trained on how to handle GBV cases but when they get promoted or transferred that matter ends there,” Muraya said, “We need to have Gender police specialists that are trained from the police academy and from there you know very well that this is the ladder.”
Kenya’s National Police Service (NPS) has several specialised units among them the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), Administrative Police Service, Anti-Stock Theft Unit (ASTU) but has no unit specialised on gender.
“Why can’t we have police departments where officers will be trained to specifically deal with gender issues,” Muraya posed.
GBV cases have been on the increase in the country, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown last year which occasioned the close of schools and confinement of families at home for long.
“It is a problem at the moment because the figures that have been reported between 2020 and 2021 are so significantly huge than what we had reported 2018-2019 and 2019/20 when we had around 1,400 cases,” he said.
More than 5,000 cases were reported in statistics issued by the Gender Ministry last month for 2020.
President Kenyatta has committed towards eliminating Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in workplaces by 2026 and will ratify and implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 on eliminating Gender-Based Violence (GBV), and harassment in the workplace.
Cases of Gender-Based Violence and harassment are rampant in Kenya but are rarely documented, including when they occur at workplaces.
In most cases, women are worst affected particularly due to lack of policies in workplaces, including in government institutions.
“When countries respect women rights, promote gender equality, and put women and girls at the centre of their development agenda, their societies and economies thrive, and those benefits extend far into future generations,” President Kenyatta said.
VWGR-Kenya has welcomed the initiative but called for implementation which lacks in most policies.
“We always have these very colourful policies but then there is a very huge disconnect between what the president says and what the implementing authorities actually do,” he said.
Muraya is particularly concerned that most organisations do not have sexual harassment or discrimination policies within their systems.
“Without these policies, implementation becomes a problem so this is where it should start from,” he said.
He also cited the two-thirds Gender rule which is yet to be enacted by Parliament, with the former Chief Justice David Maraga having advised President Kenyatta to disband Parliament for failing to perform its role.