RUGENE: We must fight sexual abuse with the zeal it deserves - Daily Nation

We must fight sexual abuse with the zeal it deserves

Sunday July 8 2018

Sexual abuse

There have been concerns that, upon resigning or being fired, in some cases, perpetrators of sexual abuse often join other NGOs, where they carry on with the same behaviours against unsuspecting employees. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NJERI RUGENE
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The African Union has declared 2018 the year to combat corruption as they promise to build a continent whose development is people-driven.

The organisation, under the leadership of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, has also renewed the much needed commitment to gender equality as part of reforms AU has pledged to undertake on the path to transformation of the continent.

This week, the leaders were at Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott for the 31st African Union Summit.

Part of their key resolutions was a determination to fight corruption. They emphasised the resolution to combine efforts to deal with graft - Africa’s pandemic- which has permeated almost all sectors of development in member states, emerging as almost the biggest cause of poverty.

On the margins of the AU summit, civil society representatives converged under the auspices of Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC), to discuss how corruption has impacted Africa’s women, children and youth and the possible way out as well as an examination on the AU’s strategy in realising and promoting gender equality.

GENDER EQUALITY

The network, which is made up of about 55 key organisations, seeks to create space for the civil society to monitor implementation of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa.

GIMAC does this through holding consultative meetings twice a year on the margins of the AU Assembly of Heads of States. The recommendations made are shared with the AU leadership and a follow-up is made on implementation.

Gender is My Agenda Campaign was formed when the Organisation of African Unity transformed into African Union in 2002 to engage AU member states on issues concerning women such as their rights and development.

At the GIMAC meeting which I had the opportunity to attend, the huge number of young feminists representing their organisations either as leaders and members was as impressive as was their contributions, outspokenness and honesty.

There was no mincing of words as they spelt out what African governments must do to address corruption, which has placed barriers in the way of implementing projects and programs that would impact on women and the youth.

Topics of discussion were varied and situations of women, children and the youth as presented by various speakers in the African context were striking.

They ranged from how corruption had impacted women’s health care and especially sexual reproductive health rights, the fight against sexual and gender-based violence as well child marriages, land allocation and alienation of women, education, among others.

OLDER WOMEN
But it was during discussions on sexual and gender violence — a serious problem in Africa with harmful long life effects on victims — -and how to end the vice, that got me thinking harder. One of the younger feminists suggested that it was time women who have fallen victim of sexual violence such as rape speak out publicly and “tell their story.’’

In her view, disclosing traumatic experience, including those who have been subjected to domestic violence, is therapeutic.

It would also be beneficial as part of helping to bring change in fighting the vice. She added a twist to it, explaining that her experience had shown that older women who had been subjected to sexual and domestic violence were more unlikely to speak out about their trauma, and they have continued to suffer in silence, in comparison to the younger ones.

The youthful and bubbly Kenyan feminist had started by speaking out about her own traumatic experience.

As a six -year old, she was defiled by a neighbour. Ten years later, at the age of 16, she was accosted and raped by a gang of four men who included a relative.

She was to realise weeks later that she had become pregnant from that traumatising experience.

TRAUMATISED
This happened only a few weeks to her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination.

Traumatised, angry, bitter, desperate and in a dilemma, she decided to procure an abortion, if only to continue with her education. A village quack was at hand to perform it with one of the crudest tools one cannot imagine can go into the body of a human being! But she survived the ordeal, and lived to tell it all.

From the reactions and responses, the issue of speaking out on sexual assault is a touchy one.

As a news editor at the Daily Nation, I came across cases where victims of sexual violence and related criminal assault would come to the newsroom, determined to speak out, only to change mind at the last minute.

GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE

A number of these cases are still fresh in my mind, of the evidently traumatised women telling their stories between sobs and feeling deeply degraded.

Talking and listening to them would clearly leave one almost in a similar state of mind.

But the issue on whether sexual abuse and violence victims should disclose publicly their traumatic experience for whatever reason, may remain personal, but the debate on the issue is healthy as Kenyans of good will join hands to prevent and speak out against gender-based violence and abuse against women and children.

Ms Rugene is a consulting Editor. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @nrugene