Nairobi — Kenya has assured that it is prioritizing women empowerment and the war against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) which has been on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gender Cabinet Secretary Professor Margaret Kobia said Kenya is working closely with other Commonwealth countries to share best practices on safeguarding the rights of women.
"We are discussing commonwealth priorities including women's economic empowerment and Gender-Based Violence with a view to sharing good practices and lessons learned towards recovery processes from the pandemic and rebuilding efforts that can involve women's leadership and girls' interests," Professor Kobia said Monday after a virtual meeting of Commonwealth Women's Affairs Ministers Action Group (CWAMAG).
Official statistics released by Professor Kobia show that Gender-Based Violence cases in Kenya had shot up by 36 per cent in 2020, in what is blamed on the partial COVID-19 lockdown that forced the closure of schools from March 2020 to January 2021.
The figures show that there were 5,009 Gender-Based Violence cases reported countrywide during the period, an increase of 1,411 cases from 2019. The capital Nairobi, Kakamega, Kisumu, Nakuru and Kiambu counties had the most cases.
She cited lack of reporting by victims as part of the challenges the government face in punishing offenders.
Kobia said the government had established 36 GBV shelters in 13 counties through the National Government Affirmative Action., And following the Monday meeting of Commonwealth Ministers, Kobia said, a Gender declaration was adopted to guide implementation by the member countries. She did not, however, provide further details.
"The Action Group adopted the updated Gender Declaration which was favourably welcomed by member countries in the context of increased gender inequality during the pandemic," she said, and added that "the declaration will help guide the Ministerial Action Group Terms of Reference and Agenda."
The Action Group was established following a September 2019 Commonwealth Women's Affairs Ministers' meeting.
There has been sustained pressure from Non-Governmental Organisations in Kenya on the government to adopt and implement sound policies that guarantee the safety of women and girls who face a higher risk in society.
"We also need to create awareness which is crucial to prevention because these cases are getting out of hand," said Judy Kaberia, a Gender Media Trainer at Journalists for Human Rights' Voice for Women and Girls' Rights.
There are also calls to declare GBV a national scourge in Kenya due to the alarming cases, many of which go unreported.
"The stigma associated with the vice and the secrecy surrounding it prevents victims from reporting cases, making it difficult to paint an accurate picture of the prevalence and severity of gender violence overall," said Winny Syombua, a Gender Lead at JHR/VWGR in Kenya.