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The Rising Trend of Gender Based Violence in Kenya: A call for Urgent Action

Vanessa Bwale, UAF-Africa’s Grantmaking Programme Attaché reflects on the the growing trend of gender based violence in Kenya.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights whose victims are women and are often left without any form of immediate protection when it happens. Living in Kenya for the past 10 years and volunteering my time as well as working with feminist organisations that support women’s rights, I have first-hand experience of complaints on gender-based violence and how it is practiced with impunity on a daily basis.

The sense of human value and respect for women has continued to be at an all-time low, due to entrenched patriarchal systems and unequal power dynamics that hold women back from reaching their full potential in society. Needless to say, that the damages GBV victims endure are not only physical but extend to the mind and soul. It is as if they exist but no longer live. Violence creates a wound that robs women of their dignity integrity and identity, with life altering consequences.

I remember a recent case of a pregnant woman who was gang raped while on her way to the hospital and after reporting her ordeal to the authorities nothing much was done to follow up on her case for justice to prevail and unfortunately many of these cases in Kenya are forgotten and remain unattended to. As I pondered on the role of government and society in denouncing such impunity and the responsibility of law enforcement agents in protecting women victims of GBV, one question comes to mind–– “who will break the silence of such a vicious cycle? Who will rise and challenge the structural causes of GBV that is so pervasive all across the country?”

In Kenya, gender-based violence has been on the rise with 357 cases reported in the month of January 2018 alone. The upsurge in gender-based violence is affecting the country as whole as the violence resulting in killings of women and girls, have dominated the limelight throughout the year. What is worrying is that Kenya has attempted to address the spiking occurrence of violence against women by enacting laws and policies, such as the Protection against Domestic Violence Act, the sexual Offences Act, the Marriage Act, and the Matrimonial Property Act, however  there seems to be negligence from the police and the government in strengthening their response to GBV, as the law does not explicitly protect women and girls against domestic violence but protects women from inhuman treatment or torture. For example, under the Domestic Violence Act the law governs the rights of individuals having suffered from domestic violence, the protection measures and the procedure applicable to the imposition of such measures therefore, a domestic violence victim has the right to go to court. Many women fear reporting their experiences to the police it has been reported that many women have been verbally abused and sent back without support and often experience delays. Till date, a great number of judicial and police officers have not been trained and informed on the Sexual Offences Act as new laws such as the Protection against Domestic Violence Act.

Most cases are reported to take place in domestic settings, hence an increase in domestic violence and according to the former Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Sicily Kariuki, “Five in every 10 women in Kenya in the age bracket of 15 to 49 (about 47%) have suffered at least one form of violence or another”. The Daily Nation a local newspaper in Kenya keenly published cases of GBV in 2018 noting that Kenya has witnessed some of the scariest cases of domestic violence, including the assault on Ms Winfred Mwende from Kyaaka village by her husband in Makueni County in Augut 2018. The husband Daudi Nzomo was consequently arrested only when the assault went viral the public demanded his arrest. He was jailed for 12 years. The Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Legal Aid Clinic says it handled 2,182 domestic violence cases between January and June 2018 alone.

A survey carried out by the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey noted that physical, sexual and emotional violence are the most common forms of violence experienced by women in Kenya. Last year, according to the police, there were 2,774 homicides in 2017 and a great number was reported during the election period and after the polls where a number of women were reported to have been gang-raped by protesters during election violence.

In May  2018, UAF Africa supported a number of initiatives to denounce sexual violence, one of them being the Kibera Young’s Women Network, the support was to mobilise women to demonstrate at Moi Girls Secondary School, a boarding school in Nairobi demanding tougher action against the men who assaulted three students in the school with one being raped and call for accountability by the school who should have done more in response to the case as well as in enhancing the security of the school.

Reports of sexual violence perpetrated by teachers are on the rise in different parts of Kenya. In June 2018, UAF Africa supported the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) with a grant to institute a Public Interest Litigation to ensure that cases of sexual violence against girls in schools are prosecuted to their logical conclusion and that the perpetrators including school heads are held liable. This intended to create a precedence for legal action that may deter future sex offenders.

The Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) released a press statement on 27th September 2018 condemning the killings of women and girls terming the acts as a disrespect to the constitutional provisions of respect to human life and further challenged the government by placing several demands of which one has been addressed to the judiciary  demanding them to continue to prioritise gender based violence cases and meet out strict sentences in accordance to the Sexual Offences Act and other statutes.

What is alarming is the fact that some of the political leaders and head of institutions who should be providing mechanisms for prevention and appropriate responses to the disturbing increase in GBV in Kenya have also been accused of being perpetrators of GBV themselves. This further demonstrates the unequal power dynamics that contributes to violence against women and seeks normalise it. The accusation could not also be unconnected to the inappropriate response women receive when cases of violence are reported to the authorities.

With the rise in various forms of violence against women and the evident impunity with which such acts are committed as well as the lack of capacity of law enforcement agents in handling cases of violence against women, it is critical at this juncture for the Kenyan government to intensify its efforts in prevention of GBV by promoting women’s rights in all spheres of society, ensuring women’s economic autonomy and their participation in decision making. To address the menace of GBV the government must as a matter of urgency create laws and enforce existing laws that protect women from discrimination and violence, including rape, beatings, verbal abuse, mutilation, torture, “honour” killings and trafficking and build the capacity of law enforcement agents to respond appropriately to cases of violence against women as well as educate community members on their responsibilities under both international and national human rights laws.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an international campaign that challenges violence against women and girls presents a unique opportunity to work towards sustained progress on preventing and eradication of gender-based violenceThe theme for this year is “End Violence in the World of Work”. In Kenya, the campaign was launched by the government in Kilifi county with the clarion call being: “Nisikize pia” (Hear me out). The Gender Affairs Ministry posted a message on social media that they will launch the national gender-based violence 24-hour toll free hotline 1195 in Kenya’s 47 counties during the campaign. If this promise is kept more Kenyan women will be able to report cases of violence quickly however, the response they receive and the support actions that follow such calls are what determines whether women will get justice for cases of violence or not.