Gender Based Violence? Not A Laughing Matter

Have we stopped laughing yet?

Great. Now let’s have a sober conversation about gender based violence in Kenya that has metastasized so much that it no longer shocks us, it provides a basket of laughter.

Last week the nation woke up to the ‘humorous’ news that a man had had his penis chopped off after alleged night of drinking. But this wasn’t the first reported cause of a crime so horrifying. In the usual Kenyan way we tried falling over ourselves with creative hashtags and memes on social media while exchanging pictures of the severed organ on our WhatsApp groups. They would have passed as funny had this incidence not been so grave.
Even Google has not been left behind. Try googling Nyeri man and see the suggestion that the search agenda puts forward. Nyeri man beaten by wife, Nyeri man battered, Nyeri man chicken among others. The converse is true when you search Nyeri women. The suggestions are of battery and now most recently bobbiting.

Gender based violence, especially against men isn’t treated with the same ire and scorn that perpetrators of gender based violence against women are forced to. Why? Is it because our men are strong and thus can protect themselves against such ‘little’ crimes? Or is it because we are still stuck in a society that has given the man the ‘makmende’ status while seeing ladies as frail and weak beings who are harmless and thus need our assistance.
Am not saying gender based violence against women isn’t happening. In fact, according to a UNFPA report, three out of ten ladies have experienced some form of gender based violence. The 2014 Kenya Demographic Health survey puts it at four out of ten women. But, regardless of the gender of the victim, gender based violence is uncouth, barbaric, outdated and should be castigated with the same glee we rush to create ‘funny’ #Nyerification hashtags.

While striving to rid our nation and our world of this practice, we need to stop limiting gender based violence to just a man beating a wife or in the context of a Nyeri man being beaten by his wife. Gender based violence is bigger than that.

Whereas physical violence is the most observed form of gender based violence, other subtle forms of these violence are equally harmful if not more disastrous.

Many people experience emotional and psychological violence without even realizing it. Sometimes their value is demeaned, or they are forced to accept certain behavior as cool or their choices and opinions are restricted in relationships. Others experience economic violence where they are prevented from accessing fundamental resources including food, shelter and clothing in an attempt to control them.

The most known though is sexual violence. A day in Kenya is not complete until the news of a child defiled by the uncle or the teacher is out, an old woman taken advantage of by a young man or a young boy sodomised by the house help. But it doesn’t stop here. How many times have we heard of men and women withholding sex? How about marital rape? Is it happening or so long as two people are legally married then it stops being rape?

What of retrogressive cultural practices like forced marriages and female genital mutilation? What of threats of violence, abduction and trafficking of persons? Are they happening in our society?

Whereas the supreme law of our country and Several international and regional instruments strongly condemn gender based violence in all its forms, true liberation from this heinous practices will not stop unless we , from victim bashing to protection, from humor to empathy and from resignation to ire, from accepting and moving on to seeking justice for survivors.

Then and only then will we be able to cast this dark practice to the dark history where it truly belongs.

ROBERT ASEDA is the Partnerships and Policy Officer at the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa-Kenya Chapter, a youth led advocacy network that does sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy. He has a BSc. Population Health from Kenyatta University. He has undergone training on budget advocacy, policy advocacy and media advocacy by Planned Parenthood Global and Choice for Youth and Sexuality of the Netherlands. He has been involved in the ICPD process and is currently the chairman of the National Youth Consortium on the POST2015 Development Agenda comprising of young people from organizations working in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya. He is also a radio personality, a creative blogger, poet and a regular contributor to local dailies in Kenya. Connect with him on twitter: @Varaq