Kenyatta Leads Cabinet in Effort to Contain GBV

17 September 2020

The government has moved to contain the spike of gender-based violence (GBV) in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Cabinet, chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi last Thursday, approved the establishment of an inter-agency programme to prevent and respond to GBV in the context of Covid-19.

The Cabinet noted that during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a marked uptick in undesirable social challenges, among them domestic violence, GBV and violations of the rights of children.

They thus, underscored that Kenya's heritage and social values situate the family as the most valued asset in society and children as the guarantor of the country's future.

The Cabinet also approved the establishment of toll-free hotlines and various online and mobile applications to enable anonymous reporting of GBV incidents and abuse of children's rights.

Rapid rise

Public Service and Gender Cabinet Secretary Prof. Margaret Kobia said the country has doubled its efforts to tackle the rapid rise in violence against women and girls during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I am confident the move by the Cabinet will help the country register a reduction of GBV in the coming months," Prof. Kobia wrote on her Facebook page.

GBV has risen at least 30 per cent since the pandemic was confirmed in the country in mid-March. Women and girls have been the major casualties with men forming the biggest base of perpetrators.

In July, the President directed the National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) to probe the increasing number of cases of gender-based violence that have rocked the nation.

"I am concerned by increasing tensions within our homes," said he said. "Cases of Gender-Based Violence have increased, mental health issues have worsened, and instances of teenage pregnancy have escalated."

Sexual offences

Chief Justice David Maraga on April 2, noted the rise in sexual offences since March when coronavirus was first confirmed in Kenya. He said sexual offences constituted 35.8 per cent of cases recorded since then.

In May, the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya (Fida-Kenya) also released a report that showed Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa counties are leading in GBV in the country since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The report, released by Fida-Kenya chairperson Nancy Ikunu also lists Kakamega, Kajiado, Kiambu, Kilifi, Uasin-Gichu, Taita-Taveta, Vihiga, Bungoma, Lamu, Siaya, Kitui and Nakuru as counties with the highest numbers of GBV cases.

"The nature of GBV cases reported are mostly intimate partner violence, defilement and rape especially in Nairobi and Kisumu. Widow eviction and physical violence by in-laws was found to be prevalent in western region," the report indicates.

Widow eviction

A total of 81 GBV cases were reported. They included physical, emotional, mental and economic intimate partner violence.

There were 10 cases of defilement cases reported and two of rape with two physical abuse by relatives (in-laws).

Child custody and maintenance cases were the highest with the number standing at 117 with widow eviction accounting for 10.

The report covered from April 15 to May 3, 2020 when the toll-free number was received during which Fida-Kenya received a total of 289 cases.

Eva Komba, a Gender and Development expert, commended the move by the government adding that it shows its commitment to end gender based violence in the country.

Ms Komba, however, noted that the move by the Cabinet needs to be accompanied by a budgetary allocation in order to make it a reality.

Aggressive campaign

"What is needed in the country is a very swift move towards tackling the impact of Covid-19 which among others include gender based and domestic violence," she said.

She added that there is need for the program by the government to aid the victims and survivors of gender-Aggressive cabased violence to access justice which has been elusive.

"The program also needs to come up with an aggressive campaign to sensitise people on the toll-free hotlines and various online and mobile applications since many people mostly in the rural areas still do not know about it," she said.

Ms Komba also noted that efforts specifically focusing towards dealing with the perpetrators of GBV will go a long way in helping tame the vice.

An increase in gender-based and domestic violence have also been witnessed in many other countries with reports from various parts of the world indicating families that were in lock-down worldwide, experienced abuse with the majority of victims being women and children.

Daily reality

Alarmed by the acute rise in domestic abuse, the United Nations in April, called for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence.

"I urge all governments to put women's safety first as they respond to the pandemic," UN Secretary General António Guterres wrote on Twitter.

Mr Guterres called for setting up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and groceries, and for safe ways "for women to seek support, without alerting their abusers.

Violence is a daily reality for women and girls across Kenya. According to government data, 45 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and 14 per cent have experienced sexual violence.

Many cases are not reported to authorities and few women get justice or receive medical care.

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