Winfred Osimbo Lichuma Speaks On Women’s Sexual And Reproductive Health And Rights In Kenya
Commissioner Winfred Osimbo Lichuma is the chairperson of the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), a constitutional commission with the mandate to promote gender equality and freedom from discrimination in Kenya.
NGEC is an establishment under the Kenyan constitution 2010. It serves as an independent commission created to serve as a chief monitor of the government. It is not subject to control of anybody but it is answerable to the Kenyan parliament. The commission is composed of a chairperson and four commissioners with a secretariat headed by a chief executive officer. It draws it resources from the government but can also fundraise from development partners.
A trained lawyer, Ms Lichuma previously worked as a practicing advocate of the high court of Kenya, a magistrate and a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
She spoke with Rural Reporters on NGEC’s recent public enquiry commissioned into child pregnancy as well as sexual reproductive violence and rights issues in Kenya.
What is the situation of Women Sexual and Reproductive Health and Right (WSRHR) in Kenya and what are the most common forms of gender-based violence in the country?
Kenya has made significant progress. The Government has put in place a number of policy and legislative measures to enforce reproductive rights and to guide the provision of reproductive health services. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 affirms reproductive health rights and elaborates the rights of individuals, family and society. It provides for the right to health including reproductive health rights in art. 47. In the area of gender equality, equity and empowerment of women, the constitution provides for establishment of the NGEC to ensure compliance with domestic and international commitments. Substantially Kenya has decreased the HIV preference from 13.5% in 1998 to 5.6% in 2013. From the last Kenya demographic survey of 2009, the most common GBV include, defilement, incest, rape including marital rape, sexual harassment, defilement and male rape and FGM for certain communities. Violence has been categorized as physical, sexual, psychological, and economic and socio cultural. At the policy level, numerous policies have been established that include the Kenya vision 2030, National Reproductive Health Policy of 2007, and the National Reproductive Health Strategy 2009-2015. Numerous policies and laws exist that include the Female Genital Mutilation law and policy, the national road map for accelerating the attainment of MDGs related to maternal and Newborn Health in Kenya, the contraceptives commodities security strategy among others.
Teenage pregnancies are more prevalent in rural areas especially among poor households. Why do you think this issue is still prevalent despite past effort and how does this scourge hamper on the socio-economic growth of Kenya?
Poverty is a key factor in the widespread of the vice. Children from poor background have been said to accept sexual favors in exchange of gifts or money to buy essentials like sanitary pads. In some cases, parents encourage children to engage in child prostitution for the upkeep of the family. High consumption of alcohol and drugs has increased cased of nicest in homes especially where parents share single rooms with their grown up children and often fail to draw boundaries. Violence in marriages that keeps wives out of the homes put their daughters at risks with their irresponsible fathers who turn on their daughters for sexual satisfaction. High illiteracy levels also contribute. Ignorance of the existing laws makes crimes to go unreported. In other cases girls are threatened and because they are not empowered, they fail to report. In some cases, they are ridiculed, threatened and community does not support them to effectively go through the trauma. To mention here that Kenya does not have a single shelter for women to serve as a rescue center and for recovery purposes. Currently NGEC has commissioned a study to cost what Kenya suffers in terms of SGBV. Preliminaries indicate high cost in treatment, drop out from schools, young girls suffering fistula during delivery among others.
What role does poverty, culture and socio-economic challenges play in fuelling sexual based violence in Kenya?
To a larger extent, SGBV has a correlation with poverty. Majority of the survivors are from very poor background and are exposed to the violence by the environment they live. Communities have not treated issues of SGBV as serious criminal offences and often do not report. Criminals go unpunished. Girls are forced into child prostitution by peers or family members who expect them to find for the family.
Your ministry recently commissioned a public enquiry into child pregnancy in Kenya among other things, what does the commission hope to achieve with this exercise?
As earlier indicated, NGEC is a constitutional commission and not a ministry. We have commissioned a public inquiry in child pregnancies. Public inquiries are used by such independent institutions to investigate matters of public interest and get the concerns of those involved. It engages with policy makers [to make determination] whether the available polices and legal framework is capable of facilitating implementation. In the process the commission makes recommendations to all actors on how to deal with the identified issues. Previously, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights did another public inquiry into sexual and Gender Based violence whose findings I will share with you. The current inquiries objectives are to explore implementation gaps in the existing laws and policies as they relate to promotion of equality and freedom from discrimination in respect to sexual and reproductive health rights of children, to assess the emerging drivers of teenage pregnancies in regions with highest prevalence and to examine the opportunities the criminal justice system has in mitigating sexual violence and their implications on child pregnancies.
In your opinion are the police or law enforcement agents doing enough in tackling issues of sexual violence in Kenya? Suggest more ways they can improve.
Despite Kenya having a clear framework set within Sexual Offences Act of 2006, it has not yielded in many prosecutions for a number of reasons. Firstly, the poor state of knowledge of the law thus ignorance has contributed a lot to non-reporting. The police in some cases have intimated victims when they report. The gender desks that had been set up at police stations are not fully managed by competent trained female officers as had been anticipated. Police have failed to quickly respond to the reports compromising the preservation of the evidence. Police in short are slow in responding to reported cases of abuse. At times criminals buy their way out because of corruption. However in some cases family reconciliations compromise prosecutions since the matters are withdrawn on compromise of using cultural structures that at headed by male community leaders and are compromised. Cases of child survivors are highly compromised by parents, guardians or communities.
Sex education, especially from parents have been said to be one of the effective way to curb sexual violence among teenage girls. How often this is done in Kenya and if it is not prevalent –are schools taking effective charge of this role?
It is challenging to measure whether parents engage children on discussions on sex and sexuality. However information received in our preliminary findings point to the fact that parents spent very little time to discuss the topic. Teenage girls reported that they have found knowledge on the subject from peers and internet. Due to pressure from religious groups, sex education is not included in The Kenya school curriculum. This has contributed to the increase in the cases of SGBV.
Like most African nations, Kenya is still one of the countries facing inequalities in women power and high rate of teenage pregnancies among other sexual reproductive violence. What has been done in the past to address this issue and what are the present instruments provided to address issue of gender based violence especially for those who are in the rural areas?
Inequalities cherish in Kenya fueled by patriarchy and cultural practices that do not put women in leadership. However good progress has been recorded in the enrollment and retention and completion of girls in schools and hopefully that will translate in positive results. Teenage pregnancies occur because of ignorance of girls, absence of empowerment programmes for girls and exposure to harmful cultural practices like FGM in some communities. Presently as incanted the constitution of Kenya 2010 promoted the right to health including reproductive rights and on the criminal front the Sexual offences Act 2006 compliments the penal code in ensuring prosecution of the offenders. Initially the sexual offences Act had a claw back clause in its section 38 that stipulated that a victim who made a compliant but lost the case would be prosecuted. However this section has since been amended and deleted from the law to facilitate reporting and prosecution.
Have the Kenyan government been able to successful adapt the African charter of rights of women as stated in the Maputo protocol?
Kenya ratifies the Maputo protocol in 2010 but the implementation is slow. However Kenya entered a reservation on article 14 of the protocol indicating that it’s framework does not provide for safe termination of pregnancy. However I find this a fallacy since article 26 of the Kenya. Constitution provides for termination of pregnancy if the health and life of the mother is in danger and does not contradict article 14 of the protocol.
If you are to change a thing with regards to gender equality in your country, what will you do?
Kenya now is grappling with the gender equality in political representation. While the constitution provided for a two third representation in parliament, it failed to provide for this framework and it has been challenging to implement article 27 of the constitution on equality at parliament level. One thing I would change is the constitutional provision and provide for mandatory 50/50 representation in political, social and economic representation. This is because having women in decision making process is the sure way of achieving gender equality and sensitivity to vulnerable groups.