Move away from pledges to progress on ending gender violence

KNUT elected women leaders delegates hold placards against gender-based violence on December 4, 2023, in Nairobi during the KNUT National Elected Women Leaders Roundtable. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

This year, the annual campaign dubbed 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence holds special significance to our country as it aligns with the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, a milestone that prompts reflection on the strides made and the challenges that persist.

The 16 Days of Activism, initiated on November 25 and set to conclude on December 10, during the commemoration of International Human Rights Day, is a period of heightened awareness, advocacy and collective action against this pervasive subject.

For many in our country, the set days of activism against GBV simultaneously confront the harsh reality of a rallying cry for justice, equality and the eradication of violence against all genders. On the sideline, Kenya will equally be celebrating 60 years of independence this year.

Indeed, it as a poignant reminder of the passing of time, yet our country is still grappling with the harsh reality of gender-based violence.

Amidst the ongoing campaign, let it not be lost that Gender-Based Violence remains a persistent issue in Kenya, with its impact felt acutely in the urban informal settlements where vulnerable populations face numerous challenges. The clarion call to action is to all of us to shed light on the harsh realities faced by many women and girls in these marginalised communities and elsewhere. This includes measures to streamline the legal process, provide support services and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

In the informal settlements, factors such as poverty, overcrowded living conditions and limited access to education contribute to an environment where violence thrives.

We must all in one accord stand up for victims’ rights and be very deliberate and move away from cosmetic and lofty ideals in the fight against GBV. Time is now in advocating for targeted and actionable changes in policies in order to ensure sustainable justice and reparation for survivors.

Further afield within Kenya’s marginalised communities, gender-based violence is a haunting reality obscured by silence.

Alarming statistics reveal a staggering number of cases going unreported, emphasising a culture of fear and impunity.

Human rights groups, united under the banner of the 16 days of activism, implore society to break the silence and challenge the structures perpetuating this violence.

Only through collective acknowledgment and concerted efforts can Kenya dismantle the walls that shield GBV, ensuring no voice remains unheard, and no injustice goes unaddressed.

Amidst Kenya’s political contestations, it is paramount not to forget the women who have endured gender-based violence. The scars from past elections linger on their lives, often overlooked in the political enthusiasm. As the nation engages in the democratic process, it is crucial to prioritise their healing. By acknowledging the specific challenges women face during electoral periods, Kenya can work towards a future where political transitions don’t cast shadows on their well-being, fostering an environment where the resilience of these survivors becomes a testament to enduring change.

There is a resounding call to action. The strides made are significant, but the journey towards a society free from gender-based violence is far from over. One of the most significant developments during this year’s 16 Days of Activism is the heightened involvement of men.

Recognising that gender-based violence is not just a “women’s issue,” men around the world are joining the cause, emphasising that true equality requires the collective effort of all genders. This shift in narrative is breaking down stereotypes and challenging societal norms that have perpetuated violence for centuries.

In the spirit of the 75th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, Kenya’s leadership must reaffirm its commitment to the principles of equality, justice, and dignity. As the 16 Days of Activism unfold, let the collective voice of Kenya be a testament to the unwavering resolve to protect and promote human rights.

The government and its systems and indeed all of us alike must redouble efforts to ensure that the principles of equality, justice and dignity are not mere words on paper but tangible realities for every person, regardless of gender.

The writer is the Head of Public Affairs and communication at Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)