As we prepare to celebrate women who have made tremendous achievements in our country, we should also spare a thought for women who are victims of domestic violence. For many women who have achieved great things, there are many more who could not due to domestic violence.
This is a matter that is not going to go away soon and we must put measures in place to protect victims.
Kenya has legislated well enough to be able to deal with the aftermath of domestic violence, but has done very little to physically protect victims. The most recent development is the introduction of the Emergency Line that victims can use to seek help.
LOW LITERACY LEVEL
This is not enough in a country with a low literacy level among women, not to mention searing poverty. We must now seriously consider establishing refuge centres in the counties where women and children can be sheltered and protected from violent partners.
In the last few years, the number of deaths due to domestic violence has been on the rise. The perpetrators are either current or ex-partners.
Even where a victim moves to a safe place, this has not proved effective. Some have, in fact, been tracked down by enraged partners and killed.
We read of many shocking incidents of domestic violence almost daily and must now act. We all remember the harrowing incident involving Lucy Njambi, who was brutally murdered by her estranged husband despite moving away to save her life.
Jacqueline Mwende’s story is also still fresh in our minds. The woman from Machakos whose hands were severed by her husband in a domestic dispute. There will continue to be many more Njambis and Mwendes if we do not prioritise setting up centres for women facing domestic violence.
Changes experienced in the country are not only on the economic front, but socially as well. The community structures that were used to quell domestic disputes are now disappearing as we urbanise. The African family dispute resolution mechanisms that played a pivotal role in domestic matters are threatened by modernisation.
Many families are now isolated in different places, with little input from the traditional community set-up that formed a backbone of family stability.
The government must herald a protection plan for women and children that can fill the void left by village barazas.
In the many forums I have sat in on Gender-Based Violence in Kenya, the excuse I keep hearing is that refuge centres won’t work.
I am not persuaded by that argument. We have a witness protection programme that has been successful apart from a few hiccups.
I fail to see why we can’t adopt a similar strategy to protect victims of domestic violence? The number of deaths in the hands of perpetrators of domestic violence is rising by the day. We cannot sit by and just say it will all wash over one day or that the courts are enough to deal with such a complex matter.
Creating refuge centres will be more cost effective than waiting until a woman suffers domestic violence for the courts to step in. By the time courts come in, it is too late for many.
A lot of the women caught up in domestic violence are, sadly, economically challenged to be able to pave an escape route for themselves and their children.
It is important that the government takes the issue of domestic violence more seriously and consider setting up refuge centres.
Many counties can and should offer leadership in this area. I am sure they can rise up to the plate with incentives and support from the central government and other stakeholders. Leaving it all to charities has the potential of putting lives at risk.
While I support the work of charities, my experience has shown that vulnerable women become cash cows for unscrupulous NGOs whose only interest is in the donor funds with little to prove on the ground.
My suggestion is to try and get volunteers to run the domestic violence line and refuge centres. As long as they are vetted, I am sure the program will work.
This will free money for the government to be able to offer support to the victims by providing shelter, finance and crucial psychological input to help the victims back on their feet. I have volunteered in a few such schemes abroad and learnt that there are many people out there and I guess in Kenya too who can give their spare time to such a worthy cause with no qualms at all.
With concerted efforts between communities, professional organisations and government agencies, it should be possible to establish the safe zones. Let us celebrate the strong women, but also protect women victims of domestic violence. Refuge centres are a matter of life and death.
Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]