Research will enhance fight against gender-based violence

An abused woman trying to defend herself [Courtesy]

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) is a daily occurrence in Kenya and, unfortunately, a reality for many women and girls.

According to government data, 45 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and 14 per cent of them sexual violence. Gender Violence Against Women (GVAW) is a widespread human rights violation that transcends geographical, race, class, sexuality, ethnic and religious boundaries.

It is a major health, social, economic and human rights issue that affects individuals and communities, and has dire consequences on national development. Its major driver being the power imbalance between women and men in patriarchal societies, it is surrounded by a culture of Shame, Silence, Secrecy and Stigma, all which make many critical cases to go unreported. Consequently, SGBV survivors and victims’ families are denied the much-needed justice and medical care. Often, this leaves them powerless, creating a vicious cycle of violence and abuse.

The government has developed laws and policies aimed at preventing and responding to SGBV at national and county levels. State and non-state actors have established Gender Violence Recovery Centres (GVRCs) and Rescue, Recovery and Rehabilitation Programmes (RRRPs), in addition to other initiatives that carry out awareness and advocacy on various forms of SGBV.

Many recovery centres seek to bring back meaning to the lives of survivors and their families through the provision of comprehensive free medical treatment and psychosocial support. They strive to offer holistic support to survivors who have suffered from sexual, physical, psychological or emotional abuse.

Besides medical management and initial counselling, survivors receive various types of psychological and social services, including individual and group therapies. In addition, survivors are provided temporary shelter and access to justice, which is enhanced through a chain of evidence management and medical expertise testimonies in court. Social assessment enables timely and appropriate referral services such as long-term shelter, legal aid, and empowerment programmes, all which are meant to enhance holistic intervention for survivors.

Unfortunately, despite the numerous approaches to address SGBV, its prevalence among women and girls remains high, at over 35 per cent. This raises questions on the efficacy and relevance of response and prevention frameworks that address it. Contextual analysis also reveals that state and non-state actors, who have individually implemented RRRPs, primarily focus on survivors’ medical, psychosocial and legal needs. Besides, they respond to violence after it has occurred.

A pro-active approach to ending SGBV is needed to pre-empt the effects of the vice. We need an all-inclusive approach that brings together funding organisations, research institutions, policy and programme designing organisations to ensure that SGBV policies and programmes are backed by evidence.

Through an Initiative on What Works for Women’s Economic Empowerment, supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub is evaluating the effectiveness of RRRPs/GVRCs in comprehensively addressing SGBV and helping survivors to recover. This is under a broader theme on SGBV as a constraint to women’s work.

It is evident that reactionary measures, sometimes do little to cure the permanent psychological scars that accompany an SGBV experience. As such, an approach that would circumvent the vice before it happens is long overdue. Generation of research data on what works to achieve this hopefully more effective approach, is critical if policies and programmes are to be anchored on real life experiences in different communities.

SGBV, especially to women and girls, is mainly intertwined in a socialisation process that normalises it. It is part of “our culture” which at times shifts blame to survivors and victims. Entrenched in an intricate web within families and communities, most individuals do not speak up, if and when it occurs.

The KU SGBV research team will thus test the acceptability of an adapted Tamar Campaign Model in addressing SGBV and promoting women’s economic empowerment. Adopted from the biblical story of the rape of David’s daughter, Tamar, by her brother Amnon, and the subsequent silence, this model seeks to not only acknowledge the existence of SGBV within our communities but also end the silence by challenging churches and other religious institutions to address the vice.

The method employs a holistic approach that embraces a social, cultural, economic and political dimension. The campaign modules will be tailor-made to provoke participants to reflect on SGBV. In this study, this model will be adapted in light of the religious and cultural contexts of communities based in Tharaka Nithi County.

In recognition of the critical role that Gender Recovery Centres play and with the involvement of relevant stakeholders in the study sites, the research team will work together to generate and share evidence on what works in addressing SGBV as a constraint to women’s economic empowerment.

By involving case managers who will link the team to numerous participants, the team aims to establish the economic cost of SGBV on women survivors, including the cost of care giving, and determine the effectiveness of GVRCs/ RRRPs in facilitating SGBV survivors’ recovery. The ultimate aim is to establish the extent to which skills and experiences gained from the recovery centres lead to women’s economic empowerment.