Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a phenomenon whose prevalence in many communities, societies and cultures across the globe has reached epidemic proportions. Women are the most affected and more likely to experience physical violence committed by their spouses/partners than men. While very limited data on Sexual and Gender based violence (SGBV) exists in Africa, statistical data suggest that it is a major health, human rights and development issue in the region. Both boys and girls who married at the ages of 15-49 years have ever experienced physical violence committed by the spouses/partners.
Children are not immune to this epidemic also. Most children both boys and girls ages 18-24 years could have clearly experienced GBV in their life time.
Gender Based Violence often results from power hierarchies and structural inequalities created and sustained by belief systems, cultural norms and socialization processes. In many cases, survivors suffer double victimization and stigmatization due to the insensitivity of service providers, attitudes of community members and hostile legal system and law enforcers. Women and girls are often blamed as having contributed to the violence, through provoking perpetrators. For example, women battered by their partners are blamed for not being submissive enough, or having behaved in a manner that ‘annoyed’ the partner thereby provoking violence. Women who suffer sexual violence are often blamed for provoking unwanted sexual attention through their mode of dressing or ‘being at the wrong place at the wrong time’.
Gender-based violence (GBV) has been recognized as a cross-cutting issue affecting the lives of victims from a diversity of dimensions including culture, education, health, economy, psychology, livelihoods and political participation. In fact, violence against women and girls was chosen as one of the critical areas of action following the Beijing Conference. This presents a key opportunity for different players, including government agencies, NGOs, United Nations agencies and other institutions, to build an understanding on issues of violence and undertake activities to combat violence.
What is Gender Based Violence?
Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, and continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations within all societies. Gender-based violence is violence directed against a person because of their gender. Both women and men experience gender-based violence but the majority of victims are women and girls.
Gender-based violence and violence against women are terms that are often used interchangeably as it has been widely acknowledged that most gender-based violence is inflicted on women and girls, by men. However, using the ‘gender-based’ aspect is important as it highlights the fact that many forms of violence against women are rooted in power inequalities between women and men.
In my journey as a change agent, issues connected with Gender Based Violence or Violence Against Women and Girls can’t be readily eradicated. I have been told of babies as young as three months being raped by mature men who are not even ashamed of their acts. There have been cases of boys as young as 2 years being sodomized by their own relatives. There are different forms of Gender based Violence such as rape, sodomy, defilement, incest and physical battering. I saw with a heavy heart when a mother came to our office that her 5-year old and 8-year old were raped and bleeding badly and she needed help.
I have been in community forums where I heard of a father who impregnated his own daughter and had to elope with her to an unknown destination. In another a police officer told us how a father was caught ready handed on top of his 9-year old daughter who had started missing school because she could barely walk. I heard how on funerals boys and girls sleep around with each other regardless of whether they are siblings. The list is endless.
I had the opportunity to meet with a group of women, men, and the youth who have been trained and are handling issues of Gender Based Violence in their various places of work and in the communities they live in. Some of the women are gainfully employed while others are housewives but still volunteer to address Gender Based Violence and Violence against women and girls.
The women said it’s still a common belief in the society that if your husband doesn’t beat you then he doesn’t love you. This is not only a belief in Kenya but in my home country Uganda and in Zambia where I had the privilege to meet and work with rural women too. Love is unfortunately measured with violence. These women still don’t know wife battering is a violation of their basic human rights and dignity. So to them, beating, sexual harassment and not taking the girl children to school is a normal thing because it’s culture.
Boy children still continue to be favoured and there was a case whereby a girl child performed better than the boy in order to join secondary school but to the dismay of the community and the girl child herself, her fate was sealed. She was to wait and get married meanwhile the boy child continues with school. These are two children from the same family and its common knowledge that in most cases in Primary schools most girls perform better than the boys.
A lady mentioned that last year, there was a woman who was murdered by her husband because of cooking bad pilau (rise mixed with beef). A woman’s entrance to her husband’s heart is through his stomach. Cook him good food and forever he will love you. Cook bad food and you are finished as in the case of this woman.
Another man defecated in food prepared by his wife for their children as a way of punishing her for not giving him food because he had failed to provide for the family. He has run away from the community up to today leaving the woman to cater for their four kids singlehandedly. This has made other women come together to help her start a business and the women have also started cooking together so they can learn what they didn’t know how to prepare in the name of pleasing their husbands.
A wife or man beaten by the partner indoors do not normally have witnesses so if they are tasked to bring witnesses there is usually none since it happened indoors. Lack of witness makes the cases difficult to handle. Even if there are other witnesses they will still not talk for fear of exposing their families.
There are still people ingrained in their cultural beliefs and religion and would also say it was done this way in the past and women are not supposed to answer back when men speak. Due to Culture, the Muslim religion look at their women as flowers and men’s properties in the house. They don’t allow their wives to carry on with economic activities to help facilitate basic needs in the homes.
There are people who still think others can’t control what they do with their children. When a boy misbehaves, it’s okay but when a girl child is either seen in the company of boys or with a man, this attracts punishment because the girl is spoilt.
There are cases of boys being defiled by mature women and that means the boys also need to be protected. A case in point was a maid/house girl 35 year-old who was constantly teaching a 12-year-old boy how to do sex.
Some women also beat up their husbands badly and some maim them for life. A case in point was a Tuk Tuk (Motorcycle) rider who was burnt by wife over KES 1000 which the woman claimed was too little. The man was giving her that amount every day. Now the lady is the one working since she rendered her husband invalid.
I was also told there are women who deny their husbands sex and this translate into wife battering and rape.
Causes why this vice is still rampant
Much as the civil society organizations try to work towards reducing the rate of GBV/WAWG in society there are still a lot of challenges that needs to be addressed.
The root cause of all these sufferings is poverty. Most women in the communities started having babies at a very tender age and majority are illiterate. An illiterate mother will never allow a girl child to go to school because they will always believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
Most women rely heavily on their spouses for financial and material support. Some still sympathize with their spouses when they are arrested and are in police custody. They do not know how to provide for their families. For as long as we look at the men as our only source of income we won’t progress much. Women also fear victimisation by their in-laws. Sometimes when they report their husbands they witness open hostility from the man’s relatives and this makes it difficult for them to report cases. The economic status of the women makes it difficult for their husbands to be jailed because of sympathy and fear of not having resources to maintain their homes while the husband is in prison.
Some women use their bodies to get favours from men. To them it’s a normal occurrence. When women are looking for jobs, the bosses promise to give them the jobs after having sex with them and some women still fall in that trap. Most times they are used and nothing happens. A case was cited were a lady was impregnated and infected with HIV/AIDS and yet she didn’t get the job in the end and the man abandoned her with the pregnancy after failed attempts for her to abort. It must also be noted that some will eventually get the jobs and continue to work but at the expense of their bodies thereby making them become prisoners of themselves.
When men condition women to keep quiet when they are talking, this sometimes causes victimisation of an innocent person. In a male dominated society, single mothers can’t talk even if their children are violated because the community claims they are bringing up their children badly. Women who have lost their husbands are mistreated by their in-laws and are expected to bear without any questions. Sometimes even the boy children are accused falsely because they only have a mother to fend for them and this happens in most cases when the men want to mistreat the poor single mothers.
Ignorance is another because that makes people fall into the trap of GBV and a case in point was a lady who took daughter to a witch doctor to make her daughter bright at school because the girl wasn’t getting good grades. The witch doctor prescribed sex as the only way the girl can be bright and started using her for his selfish needs. Although the community apprehended the witch doctor and he was jailed for emitting intelligence through sex, the poor girl had already contracted HIV/AIDS and will bear the pains for the rest of her life.
Silence over known cases of GBV is another challenge. When something happens in the community and the youth want to bring it out, the families concerned with tell them to keep quiet and that makes it even harder for other people willing to help. The families of the victims will say ‘wait for yours, not your child/relative’ while the perpetrators if coming from well to do families will dare anybody to report the case.
Financial constraints hinder justice because even sometimes the security agents ask for bribes. Most of the people violated are mostly from the poor communities. They can’t afford medical bills and can’t afford to hire lawyers to handle their cases. The police who are supposed to provide security for the people are the worst when it comes to case handling because they need to be bribed and most of the victims are poor people who can’t afford to pay.
Substances and drug abuse. Some families encourage their young children to deal in this because it’s the only source of income. Some do the trade without the knowledge of their families. In both instances its wrong because the young children will shun education and reach out to make quick money and they would grow up doing that.
Schools around in Mombasa are worried of pupils selling drugs to fellow pupils and in communities around and yet they can’t intervene because their parents support them.
The community is aware of this vice but are reluctant to enforce for fear of losing their lives because the boys are supported by their families and they seem be in a large network of powerful people who do the same.
Well I can go on and on and yet the list is endless. So, how can we reduce GBV/VAWG?
Well the biggest root cause to GBV is poverty and poverty is not something that can be swept under the carpet just like that. Ending poverty is a gradual process that needs to be tackled with care.
We as an organization are trying to promote women economic empowerment and women are trying to empower themselves by doing joint businesses.
We are also advocating to parents to send their girl children to school and support them. The more a girl is kept at school, the more she will learn to be self-reliant and be able to address issues concerning GBV when fully grown.
The issue of culture can be addressed to gradually. There are both good and bad cultures. People need to embrace the good cultures and do away with the bad cultures. Some cultures such as child marriages should be fought by the society. Attitudes towards girls should change and they should be empowered to become good leaders and mothers who can plan effectively for their families.
The girl children should be protected from men and families should discourage or stop taking their beautifully dressed girls to night weddings or funeral night dances where everyone else is engaged in sex orgies. Everyone in the community should be able to look up to each other.
Next,,…… I will tell you how we are trying to address GBV
Thanks for reading