When the Covid-19 pandemic was hitting, the dust was just settling from the Nairobi summit on ICPD25 held in November 2019.
The rallying call for the summit was “three zeros” – zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices – in ten years.
In line with this rallying call, President Uhuru Kenyatta, the co-host of the summit, submitted Kenya’s commitments for the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. Kenya’s commitments for the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 is a 17-point plan, explaining how Kenya intends to achieve the three zeroes.
Kenya’s commitment document notes that gender-based violence and harmful practices are a concern to the country. Commitment 14 lays out Kenya’s resolve to eliminate, by 2030, all forms of gender-based violence, including child and forced marriages, by addressing social and cultural norms that propagate the practice while providing support to women and girls who have been affected. Additionally, Kenya also committed to eliminate of female genital mutilation by 2022.
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Unfortunately, the pandemic seems to have interrupted implementation of the commitments. Not just in Kenya, but across the world as governments and other organisations scrambled to respond to the pandemic.
Covid-19 has also lifted the veil on how vulnerable girls and women are to violence at home and in their communities.
Shamefully, violence was a daily reality for women and girls across Kenya, even before the pandemic hit. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014, 45 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 reported to have experienced physical violence. Many cases are usually not reported to authorities and few women get justice or receive medical care.
When the pandemic hit, reports of rise in all forms of gender-based violence came to light.
The national gender-based violence hotline 1195 reported to have received 810 cases in September (as of 29 September 2020) compared to 646 cases in August, a 25 per cent increase.
Early in the month of November, the Anti-FGM Board identified 7,000 vulnerable girls aged between 10 and 17, from 17 counties at risk of female genital mutilation. An earlier report by the board indicated that hundreds of girls had been forced to undergo female genital mutilation during the pandemic.
Furthermore, scores of girls are feared to have been married off during the period that schools have been closed to curb the spread of Covid-19, and they may never return to school, jeopardising their health and safety at present and in future.
As we join the rest of the world in observing the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, we need to renew our commitment to ending gender-based violence and harmful practices in Kenya in line with our commitment at the Nairobi summit on ICPD25.
The national policy for prevention and response to gender-based violence (2014) provides a framework for effective prevention and response to gender-based violence, by accelerating implementation of legislation, policies and programmes for prevention and response to gender-based violence by State and non–State actors for the realisation of a society where men, women, boys and girls are free from all forms violence.
The policy provides a four-pronged approach to tackling gender-based violence, and that would be a good starting point for implementation of all efforts to eliminate gender-based violence.
As the pandemic rages on, experts, led by the United Nations, have called for four things to be done urgently. First, no effort should be spared in funding programmes and activities to prevent and address gender-based violence.
Second, governments need to declare zero-tolerance to gender-based violence at all levels of society.
Third governments and other stakeholders need to maintain response to gender-based violence so that services for survivors are maintained as essential during Covid-19 lockdowns, including ensuring a continuum of adequate criminal justice response.
Last but not least, governments need to collect data to inform action in response to gender-based violence and harmful practices.
Ms Samba is the Kenya country director at Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung. [email protected]