30 years of Activism against Gender-Based Violence: Where are we and what next?

Ministry of Public Service and Gender, Cabinet Secretary Prof. Margaret Kobia. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) are here with us again. Kenya joins the rest of the world in commemorating this annual event that takes place from November 25, the International Day on the Elimination of Violence against women to December 10, Human Rights Days. Started in 1991, this campaign continues to serve as an important platform drawing greater attention to prevention and response to GBV towards a safe and peaceful society for all. 

As we mark this year’s event themed Orange the world: End violence against women now! It’s time to define what we have achieved within the context of this annual event, on our interventions, challenges, lessons learnt and opportunities that we can seize to build back better and stronger especially in the face of the COVID-19, a pandemic that has laid bare vulnerabilities of women and girls in all their diversity.

According to recent global estimates, nearly 1 in 3 women aged 15 years and above have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or both at least once in their lifetime however, cases of GBV increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Closer home, a multi-country rapid gender assessment undertaken by the UN Women in Kenya and the Government of Kenya on the impact of COVID-19 confirmed that cases of GBV increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, like in the recent past, the world at large including Kenya is using the colour orange, to signify a future full of hope in our common vision of creating a world free from violence against women and girls despite threats posed by COVID 19.

The anchorage of anti- GBV interventions is the constitution, which lays the foundation for eliminating social and cultural patterns based on inferiority or superiority of either sex by making specific provisions on equality of women and men and explicitly prohibiting discrimination on various grounds.

In addition, the constitution provides for the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right not to be subjected to any form of violence from either public or private sources and the right not to be subjected to torture in any manner whether physical or psychological.

The Kenya Vision 2030 - the long-term policy plan for accelerating the transformation of Kenya into an industrializing middle-income nation by 2030, acknowledges that cases of GBV are increasing and lays out strategies to reduce the same and the vulnerabilities that proliferate it.

Over the last 10 years, the Government of Kenya has put in place gender-responsive laws and policies with a progressive judiciary that has to a large extent upheld the rights of women and girls in this country. 

On ensuring the strict enforcement of the Protection against Domestic Violence Act, for instance, the Government has put in place the necessary rules and regulations for operationalizing the Act.

Additionally, through the Amendment to Sexual Offences Act (2006), the Government repealed Section 38 of the Sexual Offences Act under which women face the risk of being victimized for initiating prosecutions against their abusers as of June 2012 victims of sexual offences whom majority happen to be women are now able to report cases of sexual violence without fear of criminal sanctions. Regulations required for the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act have been passed.

Among other significant measures worth noting is the development of the National Monitoring and Evaluation Framework towards Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence, Multi-sectoral Standard Operating Procedures for Sexual Violence, the establishment of toll-free helplines including Policare, the Komesha Dhuluma mobile application to strengthen the referral pathway for GBV service providers.

Further to enhance multi-sectoral coordination, the Government put in place a Multi-Agency Technical Committee on GBV and FGM at the national level and formed County Anti-FGM Steering Committees in the 22 FGM hot spot regions. Through the Intergovernmental Coordination Framework, the national and county governments have established Gender Sector Working Group to ensure clear engagement at national and county levels on matters of gender.

With increased cases of GBV as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a national response plan on GBV and harmful practices were also executed through a Multi-Agency Campaign dubbed "Komesha Dhuluma Za Kijinsia”.  This is in collaboration with partners from civil society, the private sector, development agencies and philanthropists across the board. Through this campaign, public awareness campaign in all 47 counties, has been scaled up and community dialogues held with women, men, girls and boys.

The media has also played a major role in increasing awareness of Gender-Based Violence, teenage pregnancies and child marriages through local and vernacular radio, TV and social media platforms. To date, it is estimated that this campaign has reached over more than 23 million people.

The conversation on ending Gender-Based Violence including FGM is more prominent and male champions including young men have openly added their voices on the need to protect the rights of women and girls. Media has played a very critical role in reaching the hard to reach communities, especially through vernacular radio stations.

As we continue to take stock of our progress during the 16 days of activism against, GBV, there are new opportunities to accelerate change including the Generation Equality Forum, a global initiative that is building coalitions across member states, civil society, women and girls led organizations, development partners, philanthropists with the overall objective of accelerating the attainment of Gender Equality. This is very important because it is estimated that at the current rate of change, the global gender gap will not close for another 100 years.

Therefore, this global initiative serves as an ideal platform for gender advocates to act with urgency to accelerate efforts, strengthening partnerships, mobilizing society including all generations to fulfil the long outstanding commitments to women and girls within the next five years.

The Government of Kenya is a major stakeholder in Generation Equality as a leader in the Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence alongside the United Kingdom, Uruguay and Iceland as member states as well as Civil Society and the private sector among other actors. As a co-leader, Kenya is using this platform to accelerate efforts towards the elimination of Gender-Based Violence and Female Genital Mutilation at all levels – nationally, regionally and global levels.

To affirm Kenya’s position as envisioned in the global initiative, His Excellency the President announced 12 concrete commitments at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris on 30th June this year. To ensure that these commitments are translated into action, my Ministry has developed a five-year implementation plan that will progress up to the year 2026. This is in recognition that despite the progress made, as a country we are still faced with existing, continuing and emerging challenges in our interventions towards prevention of and response to Gender-Based Violence.

So the question is, what needs to be done? And this is where the commitments come in:

First is to fast-track implementation of the GBV legislation and policies. The initial step is that in the next financial year (2021/22), we shall include a target on GBV prevention in the Performance Contract of Ministries, Departments and agencies, and enhance accountability for enforcement of laws and policies in place. We shall also engage the county to undertake a mapping on the laws and policies and level of implementation.

Financing is critical for advancing programming on our gender agenda. The Government has committed to sustaining the budgetary allocation of 200million and 102million for GBV and FGM work respectively up to the year 2026. And as a Ministry, we have already engaged the National Treasury on the provision of these resources for consideration during the supplementary budget.  On financing, Kenya committed to establishing a GBV survivors fund through a co-financing model.

Further, we committed to allocate USD 50 million by the year 2026 to end Gender-Based Violence. These resources will also be mobilized through a core financing model in the spirit of the existing goodwill from various development partners. The resources will be critical for implementing existing policy commitments on ending Gender-Based Violence including working with the counties towards the establishment of shelters and Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centres.

It is also important to note that the collection and utilization of data are critical for informing policy and interventions needed to end Gender-Based Violence. The Government has committed to using the next Kenya Demographic Survey of 2022 to capture comprehensive data on Gender-Based Violence and consultations with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics on how this will be factored into the survey are ongoing.

There are also plans to strengthen the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System that is currently housed by the National Gender and Equality Commission as well as work with other research agencies such as the National Crime Research Centre, KIPPRA among others for the production and timely use of data.

Ending Gender-based Violence is a collective responsibility. The relevant structures for advancing this agenda are in place, there is political goodwill from the national leadership and development partners who share our common goal of achieving and sustaining a society that is free from all forms of violence.

As we paint the country orange this year and as we undertake the 16 years of activism of ending Gender-Based Violence, let us take a moment to reflect because the journey is far from over. We are making headway, but challenges posed by GBV STILL persist. Violence remains an issue for many women in public and private life, while the inability to report those incidents compound the problem. These challenges should however not deter our efforts on getting to zero cases of GBV. As rightly noted in the key messages this year, everyone in society has an important role to play in ending GBV, we all must work together across sectors to address GBV.

By Prof. Margaret Kobia, PhD, MGH, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service, Gender, Senior Citizens Affairs and Special Programmes.