As the world prepares to celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25 and the subsequent 16 days of activism, a situation in Busia County has called into question the progress of women rights in the country. The story of a 16-year old girl gang-raped and thrown into a pit latrine has sent up fervent calls for justice. In addition to the extensive emotional and psychological trauma the girl is undergoing, the attack has also left her confined to a wheel chair due to a spinal injury. She also has had to deal with obstetric fistula, a condition where urine and stool leak without any control. What’s even more saddening is the fact that when the local villagers handed over the perpetrators to the local police, the only punishment they received was to clear up the police post compound.
This is by far not an isolated case. Every day there are stories of violence against women in the country. Even though there has been an increase in women rights activism and there are laws in place to uphold those rights, we are still far from liberating our women and young girls from emotional, physical and psychological violence.
- 90% of all forms of gender-based violence are directed at women. Between 2011 and 2012 a total of 2,532 sexual violence and 422 physical harassment cases were reported to various authorities. Of these, 90% were reported by girls and women.
- 45% of women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone some form of violence.
- 21% of all women in Kenya have been victims of sexual violence.
- 90% of all perpetrators of gender based violence are men.
- Nationally, the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is at 27%. In North Eastern it is at a whopping 97%.
- Almost all cases of violence against women are perpetrated by persons known to the victim. They may be family members, neighbours or close friends. Only 6% of the perpetrators are strangers.
- Legislation and activism denouncing violence against women has been on the rise in the last few years.
The situation today is not so different from what it was a few years back. Domestic and sexual violence is still very much prevalent. Even with the number of human rights groups on the rise, little progress has been made to protect the girl child. The existing laws are not properly enforced especially at the grass-root levels.
No one is immune
A recent case of a female politician being slapped by another top level political leader is evidence that even women in places of power are not immune to violence. This is one of the major impediments to the progress of women in the workplace. Every woman and girl, regardless of location and status can experience violence. This violence can be perpetrated by the boss at work, a work colleague or a life partner.
Lack of education and culture are the primary causes
Many communities still view violence, especially domestic violence, as something that is not only right, but required. Female Genital Mutilation is still being carried out by several communities regardless of its dangers. Some of these situations are being fuelled by lack of education for the girl child. Many girls are therefore confined to a village life where they do not have the knowledge nor the empowerment to fight for their rights. For the negative aspects of culture to change, holders of that culture have to be educated. Raising a new generation that understands the boundary between culture and human rights is crucial.
What’s being done?
There have been numerous efforts to sensitize people on the issue of violence against women. We Can, launched in 2008 is a FEMNET’s (African Women’s Development and Communication Network) five year campaign against gender based violence that aims to institute positive change in all levels of the country. The Coalition on Violence Against Women (COWAV) has also been on the forefront of advocating for women rights. The UN has also established several organizations that have taken the fight against gender based violence global.
The Sexual Offences Act 2006 was an effort by the Government to reign in violence against women. The act defines sexual offences and stipulates the penalties for the perpetrators as well as the rights of the victims.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 Days of Activism
November 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This day goes back to 1999 when it was set up to commemorate the political killing of the three Mirabal sisters in 1960. It is a day when the society pulls together to discuss the progress of women rights and the impeding factors as well as how to overcome them together.
November 25 is followed by a Global Campaign known as the 16 days of activism. This campaign runs up to December 10, the International day for human rights. The joining of these two days serves to remind everyone that violence against women is in direct opposition to human rights.
Be part of the change
You can make a difference wherever you are. By sensitizing your neighbors, family members and friends on the need to protect and uphold women rights, you are taking the fight against gender based violence a step further. By doing so you are not only protecting women nationally but also those whom you hold dear.