Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence (GBV), under the global theme: ‘Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!’ Despite this elaborate campaign, gender-based violence, especially among children, continues unabated.
Globally, both boys and girls are at risk but girls have borne the heaviest brunt, with statistics painting a very grim picture: One in three women and girls will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetimes.
For starters, GBV against children is a crime that undermine the health, dignity, security and autonomy of girls and boys. These acts are perpetuated physically, sexually, psychologically and/or economically, and seek to deny access to resources or services that may help lift a victim out of the cycle of violence.
Girls experience various forms of violence, including child marriage, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and trafficking. These forms of violence have devastating consequences, including physical injuries, sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/Aids, forced and unwanted pregnancies as well greater risk of maternal mortality. But for many children, gender-based violence disrupts their childhood.
A number of factors have contributed to the rise in cases of GBV. They include cultural and religious factors, low levels of women’s empowerment, lack of social support, socio-economic inequality and substance abuse. According to Violence Against Children Survey (VACS), 2019, 45.9 per cent of females experience childhood violence in Kenya.
In addition, nearly one in three girls has been a victim of at least one episode of sexual violence before the age of 18. Among 15.6 per cent of females who experienced childhood sexual violence, nearly two-thirds experienced multiple incidents before turning 18.
These cases went up at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a UN Women report stating that 2 in 3 women reported that they or a woman they know experienced some form of violence and are more likely to face food insecurity.
A number of civil society organisations have been at the forefront championing for an end to GBV in collaboration with the government. Plan International Kenya recently launched its new five-year (July 2021-June 2026) Country Strategic Plan, aiming to reach 2.75 million children and young people with the goal of ending teenage pregnancies and all forms of violence against girls and young women.
The Strategic Plan is anchored on four key pillars namely Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; prevention and response to all forms of GBV and discrimination against girls and young women; protecting girls and young women in crisis and community-led climate change adaptation; youth-led and innovative partnerships’ solutions on job creation.
The government has also not been left behind. Over the last decade and a half, it has enacted several laws to respond to GBV. It has also established guidelines for police, the specialised medical staff, and other officials to respond to such violence.
Kenya Vision 2030, the country’s economic blueprint, acknowledges that cases of GBV are increasing and lays out strategies to reduce the same and the vulnerabilities that increase it.
The Constitution also incorporates GBV interventions, 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.
But the highlight came in May when President Uhuru Kenyatta, as a global co-leader of Generation Equality’s Action Coalition to end gender-based violence, pledged to end the vice by 2026. At an event co-hosted by UN Women and the government, a series of commitments have been formulated into the policy brief Kenya’s, Roadmap to Advancing Gender Equality, ending all forms of GBV and female genital mutilation by 2026.
The brief contains 12 commitments under four areas for concerted action, aligning with the global blueprint for Generation Equality’s Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence.
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Despite these commitments, challenges still abound as GBV continues unabated. Unless action is taken immediately, humanitarian crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the impending general election are likely to roll back the gains made thus far. As a priority, the government must ensure these commitments are implemented if gender equality is to be realised within the next five years.
To end GBV, survivors must be accorded hearing and treated with dignity. There is also need to adopt comprehensive and inclusive approaches that tackle the root causes, transform harmful social norms, and empower women and girls.
With survivor-centred essential services across policing, justice, health, and social sectors and sufficient financing for the women’s rights agenda, Kenya and indeed the world, can see an end to GBV.