GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE

Even as we fight Covid-19, women and girls must be protected

In Summary

• While efforts have been made towards recognising women and girls as key actors in the development of the nation, this recognition has mainly remained on paper.

•  In practice, they have continued to be marginalised, sidelined and even violated at home and in public spaces.

Gender activists march in the streets of Kisumu during the launch of Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre
GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE: Gender activists march in the streets of Kisumu during the launch of Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre
Image: MAURICE ALAL

A recent report by the National Council on Administration of Justice showed that gender-based violence cases have tripled in the country since the curfew started on March 27.

But even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, GBV has been a worrying concern in the country. While efforts have been made towards recognising women and girls as key actors in the development of the nation, this recognition has mainly remained on paper. In practice, they have continued to be marginalised, sidelined and even violated at home and in public spaces.

The prevailing situation is as a result of gender rights being viewed merely as an abstract on economic and political processes without looking at the social contexts where they are based.

So while we can claim to have the one-third gender rule in the Constitution — and general acceptance that women must be given the same opportunities as men — in the real sense, they are neither included in decision making positions/institutions nor do they have equal opportunities. They continue to be considered as the weaker sex and denied to play their rightful role even in state-led formal institutions.

Kenya remains largely a patriarchal society that views women’s engagement as a want and not a need. This status quo presents a complex scenario where women’s issues are not genuinely addressed.

For example, when it comes to sexual and reproductive health, the response has been to focus on maternal and newborn health rather than a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach that addresses all aspects of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Women and girls’ issues are always treated piecemeal and never comprehensively addressed from their root courses and underlying issues.

As a result of the piecemeal approach to addressing the issues, women and girls remain unempowered, which then renders them susceptible to sexual and gender-based violence.

In both public and private spaces, they continue to suffer physical and psychological violence mostly from persons known and familiar to them. This very fact proves that as society, Kenyans do not value women around them let alone those away from them. In the Covid-19 pandemic situation, therefore, women are left at the mercy of those who could hurt them the most – their closest relatives and friends.

Presently, women and girls are bearing the brunt of the country being in a closed community. Wife battering is on the rise, rape in marriages becoming a norm, and defilement of minors happening unabated.

The curfew and cessation of movement further mean that it is difficult for women to run away from their situations and are forced to persevere the torment.

A video that went viral on social media this week showed a completely naked woman at a shopping centre, seemingly in search of a man who had wronged her. One can just imagine what she had gone through to pull such a daring stunt in public.

Undoubtedly, the situation needs to be reversed, and to do so will require well-thought-out multi-disciplinary approaches. Even as we fight the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to ensure respect for the role of women and girls in their communities.

We must also urgently address and decrease gender-based violence in our homes and communities. Specifically, we must prioritise issues that render them vulnerable to violence in their homes, including economic empowerment and independence.

We should enable and encourage women to speak out against psychological and physical violence.

Further, as a society, we must deal ruthlessly with those committing sexual and gender-based violence. Such individuals have no place amongst us and should face the full wrath of the law.

While the state must do more to protect women and girls during this pandemic, the people must also play their role by saying no to women’s disenfranchisement.

We must remain vigilant and defend women and girls from violence whenever called upon to do so by circumstances.

If we effectively prevent and respond to gender-based violence, then we protect our own selves from deteriorating into a worthless society that dishonours its mothers, wives and daughters.