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KOBIA: Report to help end gender violence

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By MARGARET KOBIA
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The culmination of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV) on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 coincided with the beginning of the festive season.

French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s study on suicide and social integration at the end of the 19th century revealed that people are more sensitive to social integration during holiday times. They are more likely to self-destruct or harm others in violent ways.

The media are replete with reports of violent incidents, mostly between family members. Since it occurs among people in intimate relationships — spouses, parents and children, parent figures and children, and guardians and children — GVB has earned the moniker of “domestic violence”.

Owing to our cultural practices, there have been misunderstandings of what constitutes domestic violence, which can be physical or psychological.

In communities with an unconventional view of women and their status in society, women suffer the brunt of GBV as men are culturally allowed to punish their spouses.

If there is a disagreement, the man wins because his social identity elevates him above women and children. Wife battering is referred to as disciplinary action, attracting no social sanction. It is the norm.

Traditionalists often wonder if GBV is really a problem worthy of the attention and resources expended to mitigate it. This notion is borne out of ignorance; many cannot relate to GBV until it affects a person close to them.

GBV is widespread. The “2014 Demographic Health Survey” shows 45 percent of Kenyan women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence and 39 percent physical and sexual violence perpetrated by a spouse. The main perpetrators on women are husbands and on men parents and teachers.

Reasonable interventions have been made at the policy and legislative levels. Laws to curb GBV, include the Sexual Offences Act, Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, Victim Protection Act and the Anti-FGM Act. Policies include the National Policy on Prevention and Response to GBV, and the Framework for the Implementation of Post Rape Care Services.

But that is not enough. Public education is the most important intervention as it will ensure that people understand what GBV is, minimise cases and create effective community-based responses.

Mitigation programmes are implemented under the five pillars of prevention, protection, prosecution, programming and partnerships.

It is incumbent upon government to ensure that policies and laws in place are implemented, adequately resourced and duty bearers capacitated.

Public education and sensitisation in the communities have been escalated by the partnerships that the government has formed with non-state actors, who are heavily involved in public education programmes.

Interventions include training of police and judicial officers on management of GBV cases while civil society partners have cascaded their training to the grassroots.

For protection, the Public Service, Gender and Youth Affairs ministry hosts and manages a 24-hour toll-free hotline where GBV survivors and victims can report and get assistance. Most of the SoS calls have been referred to medical facilities, the police or judicial department for appropriate action.

Together with civil society partners, we have supported the establishment of GBV violence recovery centres — such as the Kilifi GBV centre, which is run in collaboration with Kilifi County Referral Hospital.

It would be foolhardy to try to tackle GBV without addressing beliefs and practices and norms that tend to escalate the vice. A joint programme between state and non-state actors seeks to tackle such gaps.

The IEC campaign by the national government has been cascaded to the grassroots by seconding gender officers to county governments to tackle the causes of GBV at that level.

Practically, all referral and provincial hospitals have well-equipped and operational GBV and recovery rescue centres. Civil society organisations also manage rescue centres and there are community rescue centres in areas with high incidence of GBV.

No Kenyan should suffer the indignity and pain of domestic violence. We need to break the conspiracy of silence that surrounds and drives the vice.

The first line of response is to report any GBV case to the nearest government authority or directly to the Directorate of Gender Affairs through the toll-free hotline. As advocates of community policing say, “if you see something, say something”.

It is time we became our neighbour’s keeper as regards domestic violence.

Prof Kobia is the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service Youth and Gender Affairs. [email protected]



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