Time for county government to make Kisii GBV rescue centre operational

A view of Kisii County Gender Based Violence Rescue Center built by Kisii County Woman Representative Janet Ongera through the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF). [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

In a world where statistics often paint a bleak picture, sometimes it is the individual stories that truly capture the gravity of an issue.

Take, for instance, the recent case in which a police officer, was reported to have physically abused his wife, prompting the Kisii County Woman Rep to call on the Ministry of Interior to arrest the perpetrator who was free.

This case reflects the harsh reality faced by many women in Kisii County who endure years of intimate partner violence (IPV), trapped in a cycle of abuse without a safe haven to escape to. Women and girls are vulnerable as they are preyed on by their would-be duty bearers charged with the ‘responsibility’ of protecting their interests.

According to the Crime Research Centre’s 2020 report, Kisii County recorded alarming figures: 25 per cent for rape, 18.3 per cent for gender-based violence (GBV), 25 per cent for defilement, 0.8 per cent for female genital mutilation (FGM), 1.7 per cent for malicious damage to property, and 1.7 per cent for creating disturbance as the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey indicates that 40 per cent of women have experienced IPV in their lifetime.

These numbers represent the silent suffering of countless women behind closed doors. To address this crisis effectively, we must start by recognising the constitutional clauses that safeguard women’s rights.

Global and legal instruments such as CEDAW and the Maputo Protocol, of which Kenya is among the 42 African countries that ratified it, underscores the importance of protecting women from harm and violence. The Kenyan Constitution, in Article 25(o), 29(d), and 29(f), explicitly prohibits any form of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, whether by public or private entities.

Furthermore, Article 27(1) enshrines the right to access healthcare services, sufficient food, water, and social security for all citizens. Establishing a rescue centre for GBV survivors is not just a moral imperative; it’s a legal obligation aimed at providing social security to these survivors.

One of the most heart-wrenching consequences of this pervasive issue is that many GBV victims, especially women, withdraw their cases from court due to threats from community members and the stigma associated with reporting their perpetrators. Without a safe place to take refuge and a comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach to follow up, survivors often find themselves trapped in a cycle of abuse.

Perpetrators of GBV are often community members, creating a paralysing fear that the violence may recur. A functional rescue centre in Kisii County could be the lifeline these women desperately need. It would offer them a safe space to heal, access counselling services, and learn life skills that empower them to rebuild their lives.

However, the reality is that Kisii County’s GBV rescue centre, launched two years ago, remains non-functional due to a lack of basic equipment, such as beds. It is essential to map and prioritise these assets alongside other resources to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence effectively.

Moreover, the adoption of a gender policy in Kisii County is crucial to guide the delivery of services at the rescue centre and ensure that justice is served. Counties with functional rescue centres have already demonstrated their impact.

Nairobi boasts the Nairobi Women’s Hospital Gender Violence Recovery Centre, Meru houses the Tumaini Girls Rescue Centre, and Mombasa has SOLWODI (Solidarity with Women in Distress).

Notably, Nakuru County is in the process of establishing GBV rescue centres in all its 11 constituencies to provide care and counselling services to victims.

These success stories serve as shining examples of what can be achieved when communities and stakeholders unite to combat GBV. The responsibility for addressing GBV and IPV extends beyond county boundaries.