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Law will enhance protection of gender-based violence victims

OPINION
By Wanjiru Kariuki | August 13th 2021

Gender-based violence is perceived in many societies as shameful and weak. [Courtesy]

Gender-based violence (GBV) is recognised as a public health and human rights concern. It is rooted in gender-based discrimination, social norms that accept violence, and gender stereotypes that continue cycles of violence.

It occurs in private and in public and is one of the most brutalising forms of human rights abuses, which affects the physical, psychological, and emotional wellbeing of survivors with devastating effects on survivors.

There are various forms of gender-based violence such as intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, child marriages, early marriages, forced marriages, rape and defilement. Women and men are affected but women are disproportionately affected.

Gender-based violence is perceived in many societies as shameful and weak, with many women still being considered guilty of attracting violence against themselves through their behaviour. This partly accounts for low levels of reporting and investigation. The most visible effects include physical bodily harm, violation of the person and their privacy.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, emerging data and reports show that all types of violence have intensified. Measures such as lockdowns, curfews and the nine-month closure of schools intended to contain the spread of the coronavirus have led to increased incidences of sexual and gender-based violence. Recorded cases indicate that most perpetrators are relatives, guardians, and persons known to the survivors.

A survey by the National Crime Research Centre on the prevalence of gender-based violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, indicates that the number of cases recorded between January and June 2020 shot up by 92.2 per cent compared with those between January and December in 2019. The Chief Justice’s report in April 2020, indicated that sexual offences constituted 35.8 per cent of reported cases handled within the judiciary.

The government is putting in place measures to end gender-based violence. President Kenyatta is a global co-leader of Generation Equality’s Action Coalition on gender-based violence and is leading efforts to create a gender-equal society as Kenya rebuilds post-Covid-19. During the Generation Equality Forum which the president attended in France, in July 2021, he unveiled Kenya’s roadmap to advancing gender equality, ending all forms of gender-based violence and female genital mutilation by 2026. 

There have been additional efforts to end sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya. For example, in recognition that FGM is a harmful practice that violates human rights, Kenya has ratified international legal instruments that have become part of Kenyan law as provided for in Article 2 of the Constitution and the enactment of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011.

Law and policy reform is one of the key factors towards ending sexual and gender-based violence.

I sponsored the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Management and Control Bill 2019 which was passed by the Nairobi County Assembly last week. My focus on sexual and gender-based violence was inspired by the huge numbers of women who came to me seeking help because they faced violence by their intimate partners. Yet they couldn’t leave because there was no place for them to find shelter.

Legislation, significant increase in allocation of funding and strong partnerships with the National Government, private sector, civil society and communities will contribute to ending sexual and gender-based violence.

The SGBV Bill 2019 seeks to establish a clear and interconnected reporting and referral system so that survivors and witnesses know where to seek help. This will be through a coordinated multi-sectoral approach with referral linkages to the police, healthcare providers, legal aid, and psychosocial support to enable survivors and witnesses to report and seek justice. Safe houses will be set up in each of the sub-counties in Nairobi to provide shelter to victims of violence.

The Bill has provisions on the gathering of disaggregated data by age, sex, ethnicity, and disability to inform decision-making in designing and planning of activities and interventions to end violence. Additionally, it provides for the promotion of public awareness on causes, impact, consequences and means of preventing sexual and gender-based violence and providing protection and assistance for those subjected to violence in Nairobi County.

Prevention, addressing the structural causes, as well as the risk and protective factors, associated with violence is critical to stop violence before it even occurs. The prevention aspect of the Bill seeks to address the structural causes, as well as the risk and protective factors, associated with violence. In addition, the Bill provides for the promotion of public awareness on causes, impact, consequences and means of preventing sexual and gender-based violence and protection and seeking help for those subjected to violence in Nairobi City County.

I urge other county assemblies to come up with similar legislation so that we can protect victims and intensify the war against gender violence.

Ms Kariuki is a Nominated Member of the Nairobi County Assembly and a Gender Champion 

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