By HENRY OWINO
The sudden increase of intimate partner violence (IPV) in most parts of Kenya is shocking and disgusting. For close to one year now the country has witnessed unprecedented outrageous domestic violence involving kinsmen or kinswomen.
The abusive relationship is causing anxiety in the country. Though there have been pockets of violence in the past, not as being experienced since COVID-19 was reported April 2020 to date.
In the history of the country, such anarchy is normally experienced during elections times. However, this time round, the tribulations are blamed on Covid-19 pandemic. It has since been dubbed: “Shadow Pandemic” This owes to the effects it sprang out with apart from hazardous health impacts.
Some of the escalated effects include job lose, salary deductions, working from home, performance contract expectations, hence adding up to individual pressure. These were besides lock downs, isolations, quarantine, restricted movement and social distancing causing women and girls to spend more time with potential abusers or known abusers.
As a result of these cases, men have been accused as major perpetrators even though women also contribute. For instance, wife battering, divorce, sour relationships, courtships ending abruptly, weddings called off, and deaths among others. Because most these cases are directed to a person based on their sexes (male or female) or gender identity.
These persisted of violation against either gender are termed as gender based violence (GBV). In most cases, many reports have found that it is mostly perpetuated by men on women or girls. Nevertheless, men also face violence but usually keep it to themselves due to ego.
According to UN, intimate partner violence (IPV) is on the increase more than ever before. This is because at least two in three women experiences violence daily as compared to one in three before Covid-19.
“The increase of GBV in the country has precipitated a nudge for UN to work closely with all governments to put women’s safety first even amid Covid-19 pandemic,” UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said.
GBV types, forms, settings, causes and consequences
Guterres explained GBV are basically categorized into various major categories; physical, verbal, non-verbal, sexual, psychological, economic, and harmful traditional practices.
Physical violence is intentional infliction of pain on another person by way of bodily contact. For example beating, slapping, kicking and boxing. Sexual violence on the other hand, is forcing into sex without partner preparation or intimidating someone to engage in any sexual act against his or her will (consent) or without his or her understanding of his /her age, disability, or influence of alcohol and drug. For example, defilement, rape, sexual harassment like touching somebody on their buttocks, breast, etc.
Psychological /emotional violence occurs when a person subjects or exposes partner or colleague to behavior that may result in stress, anxiety, or depression. For example, controlling financially/economically either by denying them money, telling them to account for every penny spent. Other may be insulted or called names associated with animals.
Economic violence can sometimes include denying someone to his/her access to finances, economic activities, or other basic needs by controlling their financial means. For example, husband taking wife’s salary or money, denying someone opportunity to work and gain income.
Harmful traditional practices are some of those practices that have negative effects of the wellbeing usually rooted in their cultures and traditions. Most are passed from generation to generation and compelled to emulate. Example, FGM, child marriage, traditional marks or role play changed as known to the community.
Some effects of gender based violence
In Nairobi especially in the informal settlements, several young girls have been raped or defiled and left with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. Some infected with STIs leading to dropping out of school, injuries and even death. Couples have killed each other, children murdered or left orphans the list is long during this Covid-19 pandemic.
In Kibera, Jane Onyango is human right activist especially on issues concerning GBV cases. She admitted that cases of intimacy among married couples were extremely high in Kibera. Even though most families did not want it reported, they offered guidance and counseling for sake of children.
“Here in Kibera, we been overwhelmed with GBV cases but when we take it up for legal action, the families refuses the on ground of mutual agreement as partners,” Mrs Onyango regretted.
According to UN Women Report, at least 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, with intimate partner violence being the most common. It says violence usually increases during times of emergencies, and older women, women with disabilities and poor women are always at higher risk.
Unfortunately, displaced women, refugees and women living in conflict areas are particularly even more vulnerable. In such environment or settings, gender-based violence are very serious especially sexual violence. Most women would report on reproductive health issues including STIs, HIV, and unplanned pregnancy perpetrated by either men known to them or strangers.
It is the duty of the government to protect such people especially women living in unfamiliar environment during crisis to prevent GBV cases. Men many take advantage over women to sexually harass them or intimidate them for sexual favours.
A study by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) showed that 23.6 percent of Kenyans have witnessed or heard cases of domestic violence in their communities since COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and containment measures were imposed.
The national GBV Hotline 1195 received 810 cases in September (as of 29 September 2020) compared to 646 cases in August which shows an increase of 25 percent. All cases received psychosocial first aid (PFA) and referral services.
A study undertaken by the Ministry of Health and Population Council (April 2020) on COVID-19 Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices and Needs showed that 39 percent of women and 32 percent of men were experiencing tensions in their homes.
According to GBV partners, about 12,000 women and girls displaced and affected by floods needed GBV-related services and psycho-social first aid. About 650,000 women and girls in urban informal settlements were in need of access to basic household supplies and dignity kits to reduce the risk of GBV.
“Many young girls and women are unable to access sanitary pads and other attires essential for women during reproductive. The needs exposed women to seek help from men but unfortunately men took advantage force for sexual favours,” a woman resident of Kibera said.
About 440,000 girls in counties with high prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) require social protection and psychosocial support, including dignity kits. At least 2,350 women and girls across the country need shelters and safe houses.
Access to legal justice has been hampered as the Court systems have not been operating fully due to COVID-19. There has been reluctance by many survivors and victims to officially report violations citing absence of Court proceedings.
The absence of Court proceedings is said to accelerated repeated violence among women. The need to re-open Courts for virtual hearings/proceedings were being enforced by human rights activists to ensure perpetrators face the law for conviction.
Places to seek help when GBV occurs.
On the other, several organizations have come out to provide legal assistance that is aimed at countering GBV especially in Nairobi County. These include alternative dispute resolution mechanism headed by Chiefs and local leaders in bid to tame GBV prevalence.
According to Mrs Onyango, the networks against GBV are made up of social welfare, women or men bureaus, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), police officers, local leadership like Chiefs, nyumba kumi, parents or trusted persons, CBOs or NGOs working on women and children rights from Nairobi County.
“Let me recognized the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) at Nairobi Women’s Hospital that has been on the forefront. They have trained police officers country wide to manage gender friendly desks in police stations,” Mrs Onyango appreciated.
“For example, at Kilimani Police Station, there is GBV Information Desk, another GBV Information Centre in Mathare all handles such cases alone. Residents from Kawagware, Kibera, Mathare, Dandora etc nowadays report such cases without fear for action,” she affirmed.
“Our officers have been well trained by NHRC on how to handle GBV cases especially rape which requires evidence until perpetrators are brought to book,” Tabitha police officer said.
A Nairobi-based free-to-call helpline service is setup to give immediate assistance to the public in the event of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The helpline operates 24-7 and is taking more calls than ever.
Health Assistance Kenya (HAK1195) is one of Kenya’s primary frontline response services to the ‘shadow pandemic’. For the months of March, April and May, the helpline’s recorded cases rose from 115, 461, to 753, respectively. In emergencies, this often means coordinating an ambulance or directing law enforcement to the scene. There is also National emergency free toll telephone numbers (1195) residents call for help.
A large part of the service is dedicated to psychosocial support, via tele-counselling, to assist survivors manage traumatic experiences. All HAK responders are trained counsellors foremost, with many offering expertise on a volunteer basis as the demands of COVID-19 require a bigger support network. This month’s case load consisted largely of psychological torture, physical assault, rape, and defilement; 67 percent of which experienced by women and girls.
“Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation that not only harms the security and safety of its victims, but also hinders women and girls from being full and equal participants in society. So, we are committed to preventing and combating gender-based violence.” Sheila, police officer assured.
“Five cases of assault or rape are reported on average every day to the Kilimani police station’s gender The number of cases recorded at the Kilimani station does not, however, reflect the extent of gender violence in Nairobi, where, despite increasing coverage of the scourge in the local media, many survivors prefer not to report their plight due to ignorance or fear of stigmatization,” the GBV Police officer said.
Other groups have teamed up to educate and sensitize residents on how to cool down anger to avoid further annoyance leading to beatings, injuries, or even death. There are graffiti art works painted on walls strategically to inform and remind residents that GBV is a crime, procedure to follow for help, consequences of GBV and organizations to reach out to when need arises.
The Programme collects and analyzes data on the prevalence, forms and consequences of violence against women and girls to provide a solid basis for informed decision-making and advocacy.
“Our GBV desk so far works well. Our aim is to prevent and combat violence against women, improve protection and services for survivors of violence and increase security for women and girls overall,” Police officer in charge of GBV desk affirmed.
The frequent public sensitization has become safe havens for residents as the number of GBV cases is currently declining in Nairobi County.