GBV rising among persons with disabilities - report

From left, front row: Sandra Nyawira, Tabitha Kabura, Loise Waringa and Josephine Mwende speak during the release of the policy brief on GBV. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

In the crowded streets of Nairobi, a harrowing reality lurks beneath the surface – a crisis that has long been shrouded in silence and disbelief.

For persons with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, the threat of gender-based violence (GBV) is an all-too-common occurrence, one that is often dismissed or swept under the rug.

This is the reality of 16-year-old Ndanu whose world was shattered by an unimaginable ordeal. Betrayed by her uncle, the very person entrusted with her protection, Ndanu endured unspeakable abuse and violation. Her innocence was shattered, leaving her traumatised and unable to fully comprehend the magnitude of what had transpired.

“For someone with an intellectual disability, they doubted her, saying they were not sure if what she was saying was the truth,” Ndanu’s mother recounts, her voice heavy with anguish.

Intellectual Disability (ID) is a term used when a person has certain limitations in cognitive functioning and skills, including conceptual, social and practical skills, such as language, social and self-care skills.

These limitations can cause a person to develop and learn more slowly or differently than a typically developing person. Intellectual disability can happen any time before a person turns 22 years old, even before birth.

Despite Ndanu’s determined efforts to seek legal recourse, the court system failed her, insisting that the matter be settled outside of court – a “family matter,” they claimed.

Her uncle’s family, emboldened by the societal stigma surrounding intellectual disabilities, lobbied relentlessly to sweep the abuse under the rug, denying Ndanu the justice she so desperately deserved.

Tragically, Ndanu’s story is far from an isolated incident. A recently released policy brief by the United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK), titled “Enhancing Disability Inclusive Policy Planning and Implementation on Gender-Based Violence in Nairobi City County, Kenya,” has pulled back the veil on this long-overlooked issue.

According to the UDPK’s findings, persons with disabilities in Nairobi face systemic barriers, such as societal misconceptions and inaccessible support services, that exacerbate their vulnerability to GBV. 

The UDPK report highlights alarming statistics, with 34 per cent of women and 27 per cent of men in Kenya reporting experiences of physical gender-based violence before the age of 15.

Moreover, 13 per cent of women and 7 per cent of men have reported experiencing sexual gender-based violence in their lifetime.

“4.6 per cent of the total population of persons with disabilities in Kenya are located in Nairobi City County,” said the brief.

According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, persons with disabilities account for 2.2 per cent, approximately 0.918 million of the population. 

The findings are both alarming and eye-opening, revealing a disproportionately high prevalence of GBV among persons with disabilities in the county.

The policy brief further underscores the significant policy gaps at both the national and county levels, hindering the development and implementation of comprehensive reforms to prioritise disability inclusion in GBV prevention and response efforts.

“For too long, the experiences and needs of persons with disabilities have been overlooked or sidelined when addressing gender-based violence,” the statement reads.

“This policy brief serves as a wake-up call, highlighting the urgent need for targeted interventions that empower and protect this vulnerable population.”

The recommendations outlined offer a roadmap for change, including integrating the perspectives of persons with disabilities in inclusive policy development, conducting comprehensive data collection and research, providing capacity building and training for stakeholders, launching robust awareness campaigns, empowering survivors through support groups, mobilising resources for survivor programming, and actively engaging in policy processes to advocate for the rights and needs of persons with disabilities.

As Nairobi City County and the Kenyan government grapple with these findings, a crucial opportunity arises to prioritise disability inclusion in GBV prevention and response efforts.

By heeding the calls for action, Kenya can pave the way for a future where every individual, regardless of disability, can live free from violence and discrimination.

For survivors like Ndanu, the release of this policy brief brings a glimmer of hope. “For years, I felt invisible and alone in my struggle,” she said.

“Knowing that organisations like UDPK are fighting to bring our voices to the forefront and demand change gives me strength to keep pushing for a safer and more inclusive society.”

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