Slow gains recorded in fight against sexual violence

Personal initiative remains the most effective way of fighting Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Teaching close family members and communities how to detect, prevent and report cases of S/GBV may be the only guard against falling victim to perpetrators since the vice cuts across all socio-economic groups in Kenya.

Statistics from Gender Violence Recovery Centre, a department of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital shows that the total number of SGBV cases reported in 2011-12 were 2,954. This was 45 cases more compared to the previous year. There was a marked increase of physical violence reported during the same period from 388 to 422.

“These statistics are harrowing,” says Mr. Kennedy Otina, Men to Men Programme Coordinator, FEMNET, who moderated a gender forum on the 27th of February 2014. “One of five women face sexual violence and 45% of women between 15 years to 45 years have experienced physical or sexual violence in Kenya.” Notably, a girl is raped every thirty minutes.

Attentive to the panel discussion

Forum inspires formulation of policies

Heinrich Boell Stiftung partnered with FEMNET and Africa UNITE Kenya chapter to convene the forum attracting 224 participants drawn from academia, civil activists, government institutions, students and the general public to share knowledge and inspire renewed action on issues of S/GBV.

Although there was general agreement on the strides made by the government towards formulating policies, including the Sexual offence Act 2006, the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) that empower institutions to tackle SGBV crimes, there is laxity in law enforcement which continues to persist.

224 people attending the Gender Forum on SGBV in Kenya

This was clearly exposed by a Meru Court last year after finding police guilty of failing to enforce existing laws to reported cases in the region. In the case, known as ‘160 girls project’, legal professionals from Malawi, Ghana and Kenya worked to secure legal remedies to force the state to protect girls from sexual violence and hold rapists accountable.

It was a landmark accomplishment. Applauding on the boldness of the girls for facing their perpetrators- some of them close family members, Ms. Jane Serwanga, an advocate of the High Court and former Deputy Executive DirectorFIDA Kenya says that they had to develop a strategy since the shelter in Meru where the girls sought refuge was exhausted at the prevalence of the cases. “We tore into each other in the quest of seeking justice for these girls and protecting women in future.”

224 people attending the Gender Forum on SGBV in Kenya

Despite this triumph, there have been consistent failures by law enforcement.Justice for Liz campaign revealed the lack of initiative by police in Busia to arrest six boys who had violently gang-raped a 16 year old girl. In fact, the perpetrators walked free while the girl languished in hospital from debilitating injuries.

The ineptitude led to a massive outcry by advocacy groups from within the country and abroad. Making reference to a recent statement issued by the Inspector General of the police, Ms. Njeri Rugene, a Parliamentary Editor at the Nation Media Group who first exposed the story is perterbed that, “Instead of the police focusing on investigations, they went into what seems to be a cover up strategy from the top echelons of the institution. Justice has been denied to the family which has been uprooted from their home due to insecurity and stigmatization from the community.”

A table discusses the norms and values that perpetuate or curb GBV

Over 1.3 million people worldwide signed a petition demanding for justice. In February, the director of public prosecution announced that he would be moving to court to prosecute the suspects and a commission would investigate reports of negligence by the police who handled the case.

Hesitation in reporting SGBV incidences

In their defense, the police through media reports have insisted that there was delay in reporting the case claiming it was an afterthought after the survivor experienced increased complications following the incident. The forum learned that there were claims that arbitration had been made between the family and the perpetrators, a fact that is questionable in criminal law.

These are among challenges hampering justice of SGBV. The Deputy Executive Director and Programme manager of COVAW Ms. Lydia Muthiani says that the first point of referral makes or breaks the case. The victim hesitantly approaches family members because the society still harbours a negative mindset towards the vice and may fail to proceed to the next point.

If the matter proceeds to the second stage, which is in seeking service provision from the police and healthcare providers, challenges arise in the handling of the evidence. Oftentimes it is tampered with and hence cannot hold in the court of law. “We are asking that whatever evidence is available should be tested in the courts of law. There are also options for civil action.”

Wanja speaks during plenary discussions

Collecting data from national and county level

The gravity of the situation is heightened by lack of instruments for data collection. This is the situation facing the National Gender Equality Commission (NGEC), a Constitutional office established in 2011 with a mandate to oversee, coordinate, research and advise on actions to reduce gender inequalities and discrimination on any grounds as listed in the Constitution. Lack of credible holistic data handicaps all actors from analyzing the situation and assessing cost implications thus retarding progress. The commission aims to remedy this by embarking on a process of gathering data in order to advice government and other actors on policy review and gaps in implementation.

Summarising the world cafe discussions during plenary

According to Ms. Wangu Kanja, founder of Wangu Kanja Foundation, an organization that champions against SGBV, lack of clear data analysis is fueling the crimes. “Every day we have new cases experienced but the magnitude is not known and hence not well addressed.” She opined that because of this, the issues of men and boys, who also fall victim to sexual and gender based violence, are not well articulated or responded to.

The statistics of cases of SGBV are unacceptable

A response from the World Café session during plenary yielded some insightful responses from the participants. Patriarchal norms are a major factor which continually perpetuates sexual violence, especially against women in Kenya. Traditional dowry payment in most Kenyan communities objectifies women thus most men treat their wives as a commodity rather than as a human being who has got rights and freedoms. There is therefore need to address these seemingly harmless sexual allusions by tackling them at the subtle level before it becomes a sexual and gender based violence issue.

Trivializing sexual and gender based violence by the police is also an obstacle in trying to access justice by majority of the victims. Consequently, as Phillip Otieno pointed out, there is need to continually build capacity of the police through gender sensitization to enable them effectively respond to cases of gender violence.

Keeping to commitments

Prof. Rose Odhiambo, CEO of the National Gender and Equality Commission informed the forum, “We are in the process of coming up with the cost implications of managing SGBV,” which, according to Mr. Wafula of the Liverpool VCT is tremendous, possibly surpassing the cost of managing malaria and road accidents combined! The country is also in the process of monitoring progress on achievement of objectives of key conventions such as Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and others. This means that Kenya is committed to reforms in regards to SGBV.

The commission has been convening all stakeholders involved in the fight against S/GBV. Prof. Odhiambo however lays emphasis on the need for personal involvement in fighting S/GBV.

Download here the full Report on the Gender Forum: Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
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