As dignitaries’ stream to Nairobi for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Summit there is need to adopt measures that would alleviate the African woman suffering.
Across the continent, tales of women suffering from gender-based violence (GBV), maternal mortality, HIV, rape, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) among others are still rampant despite efforts to eliminate them.
Jenthyl Amal Abairo pensively sits by her veranda brooding over the endless ordeal that is her life.
Amal’s life took an unexpected tragic turn after her husband was killed during a tribal conflict in South Sudan in 2014. He was the breadwinner and caretaker of the family. Amal fled for safety and sought asylum in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She would later shift to the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement created to decongest the Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Hardly had Amal settled in at Kalobeyei when her husband’s elder brother remarried her as his fourth wife. She now has two children with him.
Amal’s marriage has not been a bed of roses as she has had to endure unrelenting physical and emotional abuse.
Fresh scratches and swellings around her face, hands and neck are proof that she has been abused not long ago.
“Were it not for counselling, I would have killed myself by now,” she said, balancing tears in her eyes.
She complained of chest and back pains as a result of battering by the husband.
“He picks up quarrels and fights from over trivial issues. He would lament that his food is cold or small and punish me for it,” she added.
“Often, he comes home late in the night drunk, wakes me up, makes up an issue and beats me. He sometimes beats the children also. I am fed up with his behaviour,” she says, tears coursing down her cheeks.
Amal recalled a case of sexual violence that had happened a month ago when her daughter, 10 years, was defiled by a teenage boy in the neighbourhood. Instead of her husband helping her to pursue justice, he accused her of having an affair with the boy, which turned into a nasty fight.
Amal and her daughter live in fear because the perpetrator threatened to harm both of them after Amal reported to the police and he was arrested but later released on bail. She also sought medical care for her daughter.
During the conflict, women and children suffer gender-based violence, before, during and after the flight in the country of asylum
Getrude Lebu, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Protection Officer at Danish Refugee Council, said the agency was prompted to offer services to refugees at the camp following incidences of GBV cases that were happening. DRC provides prevention and response services in Kakuma and Kalobeyei refugee camps.
“We undertake assessments, offer psychosocial support, and provide dignity kits. We also do referrals for medical and legal services and follow-ups to ensure the survivor gets required services,” she said.
Daniel Ochang, a community leader at the Kalobeyei Settlement attributed incidences of GBV to cultural beliefs, poverty, food scarcity, alcoholism and night dances within the camp as well as frustration among camp residents.
He has been working with Kenya Red Cross, International Refugee Council (IRC), Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and UNFPA Kenya on a project aimed at creating awareness on the effects of gender-based violence to encourage both male and female survivors to report cases.
“In the past, people used to cover up GBV cases because of fear of stigma. Some used to settle cases amicably at home. A lot has changed, people now report GBV cases,’” said Mr Ochang.
He mentioned that establishment of a GBV Support Centre at the Kalobeyei Settlement by UNFPA with funding from the Government of Japan in 2019 was a timely intervention because survivors of GBV can now report cases without fear, and receive medical care, counselling and psychosocial support.
The project has trained community leaders like Mr Ochang to understand the referral procedures.
“The community is now aware that GBV, especially rape should be reported within 72 hours,” he said.
Strong justice system
Ochang, however, suggested that the justice system should be strengthened.
“Agencies should encourage full enforcement of the law. Perpetrators often bribe their way out, leaving survivors and the community at increased risk,” he stressed.
“Lack of justice discourages other survivors from filing cases. Also, some cases take too long, and eventually fizzle out after a few years,” Mr Ochang added.
Teresia Wangoi, a Kenya Red Cross Society Officer at the GBV Support Centre said the facility receives approximately 20-25 cases of GBV every month, the majority being intimate partner violence (IPV) and domestic violence cases. Most survivors are females aged 16-28 years.
The facility provides comprehensive GBV services that include treatment and management of physical and emotional abuse cases, treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), evidence collection, and fills both Post Rape Care (PRC) and P3 forms.
Wangoi said that the facility also carries out sensitisation sessions within communities and health talks to create awareness on cervical screening, the importance of reporting rape within 72 hours, women’s health, HIV/TB treatment and care, and sexual and reproductive health, and talks on other forms of GBV such as child marriage.
“There has been a drastic change of men starting to report cases of GBV, especially intimate partner violence as a result of community dialogues, targeting men, on behaviour and attitude change on GBV. We had seven men reporting last month,” said Teresia.
She also pointed out that safe motherhood promoters and community health workers have been the best gateway to communities. They conduct home visits and focus group discussions (FGDs) among community members.
“Sensitisation through radio programmes and use of film and theatre by Film Aid Kenya has also been a great medium of information,” she said.
She attributed successes of the programme to good coordination between actors within the refugee camp especially the existence of the GBV Technical Working Group.
She, however, showed concern about adolescent mothers, persons with disabilities (PWDs) and GBV survivors, as special groups that should receive targeted services delivered by staff who have appropriate skill sets.
“As we mark 25 years since the global community commenced implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action in Nairobi this year, UNFPA remains committed to completing the unfinished business related to GBV and the broad protection of women’s rights as human rights. We shall never leave anyone behind in the quest for a safe and just world despite the fragility occasioned by man and natural disasters,” said the UNFPA Kenya Country Office Deputy Representative, Dr Ezizgeldi Hellenov, during recent commissioning of the GBV Support Centre.
Both the community leader, Mr Ochang, and Teresia, the Kenya Red Cross Society Officer acknowledged that collaboration among various actors under the leadership of UNHCR and UNFPA’s technical and financial support has created an enabling environment and momentum for a decisive and sustainable response to the threat of GBV in the refugee camps and host community.