I do not have an explanation for this but I believe this year will be the turning point for the women’s movement in Kenya. I harbour a lot of hope that the country will make marked advancement in issues gender, such as equity, equality and the rights of women and children, which include their health and economic empowerment.
My belief emanates from the fact that campaigners for the rights of women, girls and children in general, specific organisations and civil society and even the government through the Public Service, Youth and Gender ministry, have shown some resolve and concerted effort to work for fairness and equality of genders. They are — at least towards the end of 2019 — pulling together to ensure that women also sit at the decision-making table.
It will be important for rights campaigners to ensure that women take up their rightful space and be among decision makers on all issues that concern them and the society.
Some of the issues that must be addressed with more resolve, firmness and focus are sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV), sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR), economic empowerment of women women’s leadership and development and the human rights of women, girls and children and their welfare, as well as access to justice.
More than before, the government must focus on implementing and enforcing progressive policies and laws, including the Constitution, to ensure gender equality and place the woman at the centre of development because that is what is expected of a progressive society.
To deal with the heinous crime of SGBV, it ought to work with other players to address this evil by offering more support — technical, resources and opportunities — to promote access to these rights.
Last year, I worked with a few organisations that do the challenging job of rescuing, rehabilitating and reintegrating girls and young women from abusive situations, including defilement and rape, from all manner of perpetrators, such as close family members, as well as victims of child labour and trafficking.
These institutions usually rely on help from well-wishers, volunteers and fast-shrinking donor funding to not only rescue abused girls, but also provide them with safe shelter, help them to access justice and even take them to school and fund their education and upkeep, especially in cases where reintegration with families becomes problematic.
Most of these victims are taken to the shelters by government representatives through children’s officers and the police as they seek justice for the victims in court. They request the safe houses to shelter them until some form of justice and solution is got. This because the government has, if at all, a handful of such institutions.
But these shelters hardly get government assistance worth writing home about, whether financial and resource, to enable them fully take care of the victims. The government must set aside a bigger and specific budget for this. It must build more and fully equipped shelters to help such survivors move on and rebuild their lives as well as help safe houses more.
Campaigners for the rights of women and children will need to change tack and craft new strategies in order to be effective in fighting gender discrimination and all forms of abuse and violence. Available statistics are depressing.
We must strive to make this the year to stand firmly against SGBV, irrespective of the culprit. It’s a big shame and sad that specific individuals, who identify themselves as leaders, are getting away with spewing all manner of insults and verbal violence against women, including their fellow leaders.
It’s time we called out the perpetrators for what they are: barriers to the fight against atrocities such as SGBV and domestic violence against women and girls. To continue to watch these violations and barbarity from the safety of our spaces is to fail the society, especially our children.
Njeri Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene