By Sharon Atieno

Mercy Chepkonge, a resident of Makongeni area in Nairobi, has been married for almost twenty years. Within those twenty years, she has had to endure beatings after beatings from her husband every time he comes home from his drinking spree.

The violence has been meted on her severally until she lost track of counting and finding solutions of solving it. Relatives, friends and neighbours keep intervening but the situation has remained the same. This has become her reality.

With four children who need to be fed and taken to school, and no job, Chepkonge says she has nowhere else to go. “If I leave my marriage, what will become of my children? I do not have a job and can’t provide for their needs. Besides, I am already old, I can’t get married again,” she states.

She is not alone. Globally, one in three women face physical or sexual violence mostly, by an intimate partner, according to the United Nations (UN) Women. In 2019 alone, 243 million women and girls worldwide were abused by an intimate partner.

The situation is worse in crisis settings where more than 70% of women experience gender-based violence.

During this period of COVID-19 pandemic, the cases of gender-based violence have increased with a new report finding that nearly one in two women have been impacted by violence.

According to the report conducted in thirteen countries (Kenya, Thailand, Ukraine, Cameroon, Albania, Bangladesh, Colombia, Paraguay, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Morocco, Jordan, and Kyrgyzstan), the most common form is verbal abuse (50%), followed by sexual harassment (40%), physical abuse (36%), denial of basic needs (35%) and denial of means of communication (30%).

It is due to such reports that the sixteen days of activism against gender-based violence began to help prevent and eliminate violence against girls and women.

Launched by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991, the campaign continues to be coordinated each year by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

The theme for this year’s campaign which runs from 25th November to 10th December is “Orange the World: End Violence Against Women Now!” Orange symbolizes a brighter future, free of violence.

Marking the beginning of the 2021 campaign, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Bahous welcomed new partners to join the campaign to end violence not only during the 16 days of activism but every day.

She noted that violence against women is a global crisis and women and girls in all neighbourhoods live in danger. Moreover, around the world, conflict, climate-related natural disasters, food insecurity and human rights violations are exacerbating violence against women.

Bahous added that violence against women often goes unreported, silenced by stigma, shame, fear of the perpetrators and fear of a justice system that does not work for women.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with all its isolation and distancing, she continued, has enabled unseen violence: a second, shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls, where they often found themselves in lockdown with their abusers.

“In recent years, much has been achieved to prevent and reduce violence against women and girls. The challenge now is to expand global efforts and make a difference in more lives,” she said.