Nelson Mandela once said that a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.
Statistics have shown that gender-based violence disproportionately affects women and girls. Kenya’s female population is estimated at nearly 24 million and reports indicate that one in three persons have experienced an episode of sexual violence before reaching age 18.
Indeed, no one is spared. Of the 5,143 GBV cases cited in a health report, pregnant women accounted for 13.5 per cent, girls living with disabilities represented one per cent; while women over 50 years were three per cent.
Offences against men and boys are also on the rise. The Gender Based Violence Recovery Centre assists 3,000 survivors annually, three per cent and five per cent of whom are men and boys, respectively.
The 16 Days of Activism campaign officially kicked off on November 25. All over the globe, people are standing up and making pledges to end gender-based violence in their homes and communities. Kenya’s own Jitokeze campaign is galvanising support from all quarters.
The campaign has roped in men and women, communities, organisations, institutions, and companies from all sectors, as well as all government bodies to stem the tide. The campaign deploys five key strategies: prevention, protection, prosecution, programming and partnerships.
Anti-GBV work must start by combating negative structural attitudes, beliefs, and practices. For instance, among the Kuria, FGM is believed to be what makes good and faithful wives. This is a belief also held in Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Narok.
The debilitating practice is equally rampant in West Pokot, Baringo, Kisii, Nyamira, Bungoma (Mt Elgon), Samburu, Isiolo, Marsabit and Elgeyo Marakwet. Hence, Kenya’s national prevalence of FGM being at 21 per cent. Yet research has shown that FGM causes both short-term and long-term physical and psychological complications.
Jitokeze is focused on knowledge building and offering social transformation programmes that compel communities to really listen to the fears and concerns of the women and girls among them. Last week in Kajiado, an area also considered an FGM hot spot, more than 500 girls received training on an alternative rite of passage.
There were also training sessions with community members on the need to say NO to FGM and YES to education. Further to that, a county exchange programme among Samburu, Kajiado and Narok counties was organised to encourage dialogue on why there is need to end FGM.
It is important to make GBV survivors feel safe enough to report. Police stations and hospitals should not inspire dread and fears of re-victimisation. The campaign is working to create accountability frameworks within the public domain and equip forensic laboratories for the proper handling of cases.
The UK passed the Sex Offenders Act 1997 (updated in 2003) to establish a sex offenders register containing the details of individuals convicted, cautioned or released from prison for a sexual offence against children or adults since 1997.
There’s a proposal to pass a similar Act in Kenya that could potentially strengthen gender focal points in line ministries and departments. Understanding the scope of need will guide budget advocacy to increase allocations for the GBV response.
In truth, many hands make light work. By fostering partnerships with key stakeholders, such as the United Nations, in communication, advocacy and policy dialogue, the anti-GBV campaign helps champions leverage their influence to effect change.
We must all work to effect real change that we can witness in our lifetime. Nelson Mandela, a man who dedicated his life to championing what was right, did also say that it always seems impossible until it’s done.
Ms Sicily Kariuki is Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs.