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Breaking the Cycle: Investing in preventing violence against women and girls

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 Investing in preventing violence against women and girls (Photo: iStock)

Every year, November 25 marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and December 10 marks Human Rights Day.

The campaign is used as a strategy by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. This year's theme is Investing to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS)2022 shows that over 40 per cent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Furthermore, statistics from the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW-Kenya) show that over 3,762 cases of gender-based violence were reported in 2022. Of these, 2,985 cases of GBV were reported by women. These staggering figures highlight how much more needs to be done to prevent violence against women and girls.

Women are exposed to a myriad of violent acts, including sexual, physical, psychological and emotional violence because there are limited avenues for redress. Kenya has made efforts to ensure that survivors of violence are protected.

There is a robust legal system in place to protect survivors of violence, including the Sexual Offences Act, gender desks in police stations and the recently established Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Courts. Despite this, women are still vulnerable to violence.

A survivor-centred approach should be adopted to ensure that the systems in place are beneficial to survivors and prevent violence. This means that the system is designed to make it easier for the survivor to seek justice, rather than harsher.  Often, the system that is supposed to provide support is the same system that discourages women and girls from seeking services.

In many cases, women who have reported violations have been ridiculed and accused of causing the violations by the officials who receive them. In some cases, investigating officers have stated that evidence meant to support the survivor's case has been eaten by rats, leaving the survivor with no hope of justice. 

Establishing systems and structures to address violence against women and girls is not enough; proactive and sustained investment is not only a moral imperative, but also an essential step towards building a society where women and girls can live free from the threat of violence. It requires a multidimensional and collaborative approach to address the complex factors that contribute to gender-based violence and create lasting change.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) have made great strides in working to change community attitudes and break down stereotypes that perpetuate gender-based violence. However, social change must be accompanied by systemic change, which involves changing power dynamics and policies. 

The government has a duty to work towards breaking down systemic barriers to prevent violence against women and girls. Collaboration with NGOs, CBOs and other stakeholders is key to achieving this change. Ensuring that government legal aid services are operational, training law enforcement officers and working towards a seamless justice system that addresses S/GBV issues is a good place to start.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, and a human rights and reproductive health expert. 

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