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Men must take a stand to protect women

In 2014, during rush hour, a woman was at a crowded bus stop in Nairobi, waiting to start her journey back home. She was set upon by a group of men who roughed her up and tore off her clothes, leaving her naked.

They kicked her in the groin and continued to beat her up even as she screamed for help and tried to cover herself up. Her crime? Wearing a short skirt.

Every day women all over the world pay a price for unequal power relations between women and men.

Whether it is a woman being stripped on a street in Nairobi for being "indecently" dressed, an Indian student gang-raped in a bus, a Swedish girl beaten unconscious by her boyfriend or a female manager passed over for promotion, they all represent the ultimate consequences of societal attitudes put in place to hold women down.

The end result? Through various types of control and intimidation, half of humanity is stopped from enjoying their human rights.

Women and girls experience violence in all forms at homes and in public, all over the globe. In many countries, silence reigns on the pervasiveness of domestic violence against women; even countries where gender equality has purportedly been achieved are affected.

It is no secret that India ranks with Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia as one of the most dangerous places for women. With reports of a woman being raped every 18 hours in New Delhi, the capital city is now infamously known as the 'rape capital' of India.

While commonly regarded as one of the leading countries with regard to gender equality, Sweden is hardly a stranger to gender-based violence. Some 28, 200 cases of assault against women were reported to the police in 2014, out of which more than 60 per cent were committed indoors by a person familiar to the woman.

Over the last one year, Kenya has seen staggering reports of violence against women. Not only was the violence brutal in nature, but most disturbing and worrying is the nonchalant attitude among those witnessing it.

Societal norms and structures that aim at controlling women sometimes go to extreme lengths, often through targeting women's rights to their own sexuality. The 2008-09 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) found that 4 out of 10 women have experienced some form of gender-based violence, which includes female genital mutilation.

In particular, the survey found that much of the violence begins at around age 15, and intensifies with age and the number of children a woman has.

Particularly alarming is the fact that the latest 2014 KDHS survey shows that 41 per cent of women have experienced violence – both sexual and physical –perpetrated by a family member.

The time has come for all men, irrespective of nationality or profession, to introspect.

A few weeks ago, the United Nations Office in Nairobi launched the #HeForShe online campaign, urging men to sign on as #HeForShe champions in a public demonstration of their own commitment to prevent violence and discrimination against women and girls.

The #HeForShe campaign aims to bring home the message that although laws exist to deal with gender violence and guarantee gender equality, every man must take personal responsibility to root out the vice of gender discrimination in his home.

Only then can a society begin to take a stand together to bring to an end injustice committed against women and girls, denying them basic human rights such as a life of dignity, choice and freedom.

The #HeForShe campaign is also about recognising the enormous economic gains society stands to make when women are able to grow up in environments that are kept free of gender based violence and discrimination.

One study estimates that reducing barriers to women's participation in emerging economies could raise per capita incomes by as much as 14 per cent.

Violence and discriminative structures contribute to keep women out of the workforce, thus dragging down women, their families, and entire communities for generations in Kenya and elsewhere.

For Kenya to reach the goals enshrined in Vision 2030 the potential of all Kenyans, women and men, have to be realised.

The time for change has come. All men must take a firm stand against violence and discrimination, for Kenya to reach its full promise and potential as a people and a nation.

We urge all boys and men; religious and community leaders, youth and elders, and people at all levels of society to join the #HeForShe initiative, to put an end to discrimination and violence against all women and girls.

The #HeForShe initiative offers a great opportunity to manifest our dedication to this cause and to set the trend for a healthier and safer society for all.

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