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We should step up efforts to close the gender equality gap

By Wangechi Wachira | July 2nd 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has spotlighted the inequalities that women and girls across Kenya continue to face in their quest to realise their rights.

A year after Covid-19 was reported in Kenya, we have seen increasing cases of violence against women and girls with survivors unable to access justice. Massive job losses coupled with the burden on unpaid care and domestic work, school closures, disruption of sexual and reproductive health services have further widened gender disparities with women and girls hit the hardest.

Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledged that violence against women and girls emerging from the pandemic’s social and economic fallout was now a national crisis, with Kenya recording 92 per cent of cases from January to June 2020 compared to 2019. He declared GBV a matter of national urgency saying part of the mitigating strategies to GBV including medical, legal, and psychological support services would be integrated into the essential minimum package of Universal Health Care by 2022.

Violence against women and girls is not a new phenomenon. What is different is the way it has manifested itself during the pandemic. In 2014, the Kenya Demographic Health Survey indicated that at least 47 per cent of women aged between 15 and 49 had experienced either sexual or physical violence at some point in their lives. Further, in the last one year, the national GBV helpline 1195 has reported 5,009 cases of GBV. Similarly, as the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), we have witnessed a 64 per cent increase of cases reported on our toll-free line compared to the same period in 2020.

In 1995, the Beijing Platform of Action (BDPfA) envisioned a world where women and girls in their diversity are able to exercise their freedoms and realise their rights. These include being able to go to school, participate equally in politics, live in dignity free from violence and get equal pay for equal work and more.

Twenty six years on, no country can boast of having achieved gender parity across spheres. It is a glaring truth that continues to underpin the aspirations of Kenyan women to be set free from all gendered socio-economic and political restrictions.

It is also critical to note that the Constitution and all the other international instruments and laws ratified by the government over the years advocate for non-discrimination regardless of one’s gender. However, increasingly Kenyan women are still pushing for inclusivity and agitating to have law-enforcers and government take action to end femicide and other forms of violence affecting women and girls. Sadly the more they push, the more things remain the same or even worse.

The pronouncement by the president to increase funding for GBV prevention and response to Sh2.3 billion by 2022 and Sh5 billion by 2026 is therefore a critical stepping stone to ensure holistic social protection for women and girls.

The government also committed to scale up Policare Centres, establish State-run shelters in all 47 counties and develop a GBV management and information system as well as co-finance survivor funds in partnership with the private sector and civil society organisations, among other stakeholders.

These pronouncements couldn’t have come at a better time than now as the focus shifts to the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) set for Paris beginning June 30 where countries will convene to commemorate 26 years since governments committed to advance gender equality and to renew their commitments towards making gender parity a reality through accelerated actions and concrete investments.

With Kenya co-leading the GBV Action Coalition alongside other countries in the GEF, it is only prudent that commitment from government be transformed from paper to action to ensure women’s rights and gender equality become a reality.

CREAW has spent the last 21 years working relentlessly to close the gender equality gap and with the pandemic ravaging the hard-won gains on women’s rights, we refuse to sit back; our push for equality for all women and girls has just begun.

As ardent supporters of the rights of women and girls, we continue to tighten our resolve and strategies to demand for greater accountability from government in regards to resource allocation on GBV and gender equality interventions, implementation of policies, sustainable economic safety nets for survivors as well as establishment of safe shelters for women and girls fleeing violence at home.

As the world celebrates the key milestones since the 1995 BDfA, in Kenya, we take cognisance of the fact that we continue to translate the BDfA into concrete actions.

This is due to the fact that we now have a progressive constitution that guarantees gender equality; increasingly we are seeing women ascending into elective and appointive offices; communities beginning to rise beyond the norms and practices that promote violence against women and girls; and increasingly both national and county level government enacting laws to ensure women and girls are better protected, live in dignity and in safe communities. The Paris GEF, marking 25 years since the BDfA, gives us the opportunity to strengthen our resolve, mobilise and organise to achieve women’s full empowerment and gender equality.

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So listen, President Uhuru, whoever advised you to leave social media drove you into a path that cannot sustain your political dream after 2022.
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