GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE

Coast female lawyers, activists should stand up for women's rights

Kadhiscourts underutilised to advance women's rights, should be monitored and assisted to be at the forefront of women empowerment.

In Summary

• Violence against women has been on the rise in different parts of Pwani as reported during the Covid-19 pandemic.

• As we near the electioneering period, women will again be on the receiving end.

Many cases of sexual gender-based violence, violence against women and violence against children have been reported during lockdown.
RIGHTS VIOLATION: Many cases of sexual gender-based violence, violence against women and violence against children have been reported during lockdown.
Image: COURTESY

Women's empowerment remains a challenge at the Coast particularly in rural areas.

Violence against women has been on the rise in different parts of Pwani as reported during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between April and December 2020, HAKI Africa received more than 227 cases of gender-based violence through its Rapid Response Team. The cases included women beatings, rape and defilement.

In Taita Taveta county, for example, defilement - in what appears to be incest - increased five fold. In Mombasa, violence against women, particularly by persons known to them, was alarmingly high.

In Kilifi, especially in Mtwapa and Malindi areas, child prostitution was on the increase while in Kwale, early marriages were reported to be the main gender rights violation.

In Tana River, fights over pasture continue to leave women killed and maimed, while in Lamu, women have lost their voices completely.

As we near the electioneering period, women will again be on the receiving end. In the 2017 prolonged electoral period, women bore the brunt of the political stalemate as they suffered losses from their small businesses.

Economic challenges render women susceptible to violations as they become dependent on men, who then abuse their rights. This year, the political climate coupled with Covid-19 pandemic hardships will make women more vulnerable.

Unless measures are put in place to address the plight of women and girls in the counties, gender violence will get worse. Unfortunately, despite the increased disenfranchisement of women, little is being done to empower and place them in a position of control.

The situation has been made worse by the fact that women, who in the Coastal communities are largely less educated due to traditional and cultural beliefs, do not understand their constitutional rights and the legal processes in following up on crimes such as rape, defilement and domestic violence, among others. 

In most communities, violence against women is treated casually and violators easily get away with abuses as society always turns away and blames the woman for 'instigating/attracting' the violence.

When it comes to social, political and economic affairs, women are left out and become reliant on men around them for their survival. Especially on economic matters, women find it difficult to compete with men as the environment is very much in favour of men.

Without resources and capacity to compete with men, women are left to pick the remains and leftovers of financial deals.

Empowerment of Coastal women and society on women’s rights is more paramount than ever before. Efforts to boost their involvement in social, political and economic matters need support. At the same time, violence against women and children must be stopped by all means.

All this ought to be done in a structural manner that will ensure society's empowerment must not be seen as a foreign agenda being imposed on communities. It must be done in a way that ensures acceptance and sustainability.

In light of the above, it then becomes crucial to link women’s rights with economic support to empower women and address the disenfranchisement they face. To do so, there is need to empower women and girls on their constitutional and legal rights in order to enable them stand up against physical and psychological torture.

Legal avenues at the disposal of women must be sought to come to the defence and support of women. Police must be forced to investigate and arrest culprits of violence against women.

Kadhi courts, which for long have been under utilised to advance women’s rights, ought to be monitored and assisted to be at the forefront of women empowerment.

Female lawyers and activists at the Coast should now rise up and spearhead the advancement of women’s legal and economic rights. They should advocate more to be done done at the community level to ensure women are accorded respect and treated as peers in the social, economic and political spheres at the Coast and Kenya in general.