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In the 16 days of activism, deal with plight of women detainees

Friday December 6 2019

gender-based violence

A distressed female detainee. Female detainees experience higher levels of victimisation while in the hands of law enforcement agencies. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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For 16 days, from November 25 to December 10, the international community is focused on a serious issue – gender-based violence – which seems to have taken a dangerous route here at home.

Local media are often awash with reports of rape, battering and defilement, which are the more obvious forms of GBV but are just a few of what constitutes this form of brutality on victims because of their sexual orientation.

Traditionally, female detainees experience higher levels of victimisation while in the hands of law enforcement agencies.

Social factors largely marginalise their participation in mainstream society and contribute to the rising number of females in conflict with the law, hence leading to their arrest. These include poverty, unemployment, single motherhood and homelessness.

These women, while in police custody, are subjected to circumstances that compromise the quality of their life and rights.

Between January 2012 and December 2017, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) has conducted 790 inspections – 537 new ones and 253 follow-ups.



They ascertained that in police facilities, there exist practices, policies and structures that perpetuate violation of detainee rights, mostly the female ones.

This has informed a thematic report focusing on female rights within police premises.

The National Police Service has been shy about pushing forward its own draft gender policy as the National Gender Policy has not been formally launched. This inhibits effective gender mainstreaming in the service.

Notably, Chapter 8(11) of the Service Standing Orders creates the Directorate of Gender, Child Abuse and Protection, but only under the Kenya Police Service (KPS) formation.

The directorate is responsible for policy formulation; analysis and dissemination of information; planning and coordinating training and public awareness; and monitoring, evaluating and documenting matters relating to gender issues.

Others are coordinating with the regional police officers, formation commanders and county police commanders; coordinating and liaising with other government departments; and storage of all information and data on matters pertaining to gender.


There is also analysis and dissemination of information on child abuse and rights, including advising the Deputy Inspector-General (KPS) on policy and other areas of gender and children issues.

But this directorate has largely been ineffective and has operationally been joined together with Community Policing, though put separate under the Service Standing Orders.

It needs to be extended to the Inspector General’s office working with or within the Internal Affairs Unit of the NPS.

Besides, the National Police Service Commission needs to guide in the development of a clear policy guidelines to ensure gender issues in the NPS are respected, protected and fulfilled.

This would be in line with Section 10(1)(l), which gives the NPSC the function of developing policies for the service.

Gender perspectives in police detention facilities premises provide various parameters to be considered in terms of policy.


First, access to reasonable standards of sanitation as provided in Article 43(1)(b) of the Constitution is not adhered to.

Police premises that hold detainees lack adequate supply of clean and safe water [Art. 43(d)] to support the personal needs of all its detainees, and this contravenes Rule 18 of personal hygiene of United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules).

The supply of water, food and cooking arrangements in police premises, it was observed, does not take account of pregnant women, lactating mothers and children accompanying their parents to the detention facilities.

This should be provided for in consistency with Rule 22, on food, in the Mandela Rules.

The dignity of women detainees in police cells is greatly compromised for lack of their separation from the rest – contrary to Rule 11 as provided in the Mandela Rules.


More so, lack of sanitary provisions exposes women detainees to unhygienic alternatives to manage their cycles, which exposes them to risks of infection.

It violates Article 28 of the Constitution, which appreciates that every person has inherent dignity and the right to have that dignity respected and protected.

Poor policing culture, attitudes and lack of training of officers on gender issues are some of the causal effects why women fail to report complaints to police facilities for fear of being mishandled and subsequently traumatised.

This is a great opportunity that should be seized by all to highlight the plight of women in police custody.

Ms Mohamed, a gender and governance specialist, sits on the Ipoa board.