Political goodwill is needed in the fight against gender-based violence in Kenya
Gender-based violence is a global phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. In Kenya, 45 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 49 years have experienced either physical or sexual abuse. Women and girls account for 90 percent of the gender-based violence cases reported. Violence, particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women, are major public health problems and violations of women’s human rights in Kenya.
Nyanza region is among the areas in Kenya that report higher levels of physical and sexual violence committed by a spouse or partner every day. According to a representative at the Gender Violence Recovery Center at Jaramogi Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu County, the hospital receives more than 10 cases of defilement of girls below the age 18 years on a daily basis even though many cases still go unreported for diverse reasons. The most notorious perpetrators of gender-based violence in Kisumu were reported to be boda-boda riders and male family members: step fathers, uncles and cousins. Moreover violence against school going girls reportedly escalates during the school holiday months of April, August and December.
To tackle this issue, some factors need to be addressed. Kenya is a signatory to several international and regional conventions, treaties and human rights standards and programmes of action that seek to prevent or eradicate gender inequality and discrimination, which are the primary causes of gender-based violence in Kenya. The key international and regional treaties/ conventions and agreements are : Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948; The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981); Maputo Protocol, 2003; Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women 1979; United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989; United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women 1993; Beijing Platform for Action 1995 and the International Conference on Population and Development.
Sub-article 5 of article 2 of the Kenyan constitution incorporates the general rules of international law to form part of the law of Kenya while sub-article (6) states that “any treaty or convention ratified by Kenya shall form part of the law of Kenya under the current Constitution” but this is being implemented to the letter here in Kenya.
The key factors hindering the effective implementation of the Constitution and by extension the international and regional treaties, conventions and programmes of action has mainly been lack of political goodwill, state reservations as well as ineffective enforcement. This is primarily attributed to lack of mechanisms to effect discernible sanctions against non-compliance and poor performance of the duty bearers.
Secondly, the Kenyan Constitution as progressive as it may appear in its spirit and letter fails to provide clear mechanisms of how the embedded culture of violence in many tribes in Kenya can be rooted out, to free women and girls from violence. Moreover, it fails to provide mechanisms for educating the society to shun cultural practices and beliefs that perpetuate violence.
Other Weaknesses that have been noted in Kenya include, poor documentation of Gender Based Violence cases and uncoordinated research, monitoring and evaluation of GBV laws, policies and programme implementation; socio-cultural factors that promote gender discrimination and gender inequality, inadequate child protection policies in schools; low levels of awareness of the existing Gender Based Violence support services among school girls and boys; inaccessibility to the justice system for most Gender Based Violence survivors, many are poor and ignorant about their rights and finally inadequate human and financial resources to operationalize the national child protection system.
We are known to be good in designing and developing laws, policies and acts but when it comes to implementing them we are very poor at it. To see a drop in cases of gender-based violence in the country, there is a need to:
Enhance support services for victims of violence including crisis intervention, information and referral, support Groups, free Counselling and free access to medical services.
Invest more in research, monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of Gender Based Violence laws and policies by the National Government and international partners.
Strengthen the Child Protection Systems in schools, students and teachers should always be educated and made aware of child rights in violence cases. This should also extend to the community level.
To provide sufficient human and financial resources for effective implementation of the relevant Gender Based Violence laws and policies.
Provide free legal advice, and in cases where the survivors cannot afford legal services, legal aid must be provided for survivors of Gender Based Violence.