By Treezer Michelle

The global theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which will run from 25 November to 10 December 2021, is “Orange the world: End violence against women now!

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is an annual international campaign that is used as an organizing strategy by individuals and organizations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

According to the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, GBV includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm and other forms of suffering, coercion and limits on personal freedoms. It has long-term consequences on the sexual, physical and psychological health of survivors.

GBV is being majorly driven by conflict, climate change, famine and insecurity which heightens vulnerability for girls and women.

Violence against women and girls according to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

“GBV victims can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death,” says Mary Gorety Nasimiyu, the coordinator of the GBV Rescue Centre in Bungoma.

A report released by the Human Rights Watch on 21st September 2021 showed that the Kenyan government’s response to gender-based violence during the Covid-19 pandemic has been too little and too late.

Files for the GBV cases being sorted by an official at the centre

The 61-page report, I Had Nowhere to Go’: Violence against Women and Girls during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Kenya, documents how the Kenyan government’s failure to ensure services to prevent GBV and provide assistance to survivors under its COVID-19 response measures facilitated an increase in sexual and other violence against women and girls.

According to the National Crime and Research Centre, gender-based violence cases increased to 2,032 between January and June 2021 from 1,057 cases reported in the entire year of 2019. Bungoma County recorded a 6% increase in GBV cases.

“This GBV centre was put up through funds received from the National Government Affirmative Action Funds (NGAAF) to help rescue female genital mutilation (FGM) victims and survivors of other forms of GBV,” says Catherine Wambilianga, the women representative for Bungoma County.

She spoke to the press when she led the Public Service and Gender Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Linah Jebii Kilimo on an inspection of the GBV rescue centre at Ndengelwa in Bungoma County.

“I have worked here for five years now. Most of the cases we receive and handle here are gender based family conflicts, matters of rape, female genital mutilation and teenage pregnancy issues. We receive and handle cases from all the 9 sub-counties in Bungoma County. Most cases of Sexual Gender based violence are from Mount Elgon region,” says Nelson Khisa, an office assistant at the GBV rescue center in Ndengelwa.

According to Nasimiyu, they involve the police in almost all the cases they receive. Once a report is filed with us, the report is forwarded to the nearest police station mostly here in Ndengelwa for investigation and administration of Justice, she says.

Mary Gorety Nasimiyu Wanjala, the coordinator of the Gender-Based Violence Rescue Centre in Bungoma County.

“Rape cases, teenage pregnancies and teenage abortions are very common here. Mabhusi School for example, has two ongoing teenage pregnancy cases currently,” Nasimiyu said.

“One is a case of a school girl who allegedly performed an abortion and threw the foetus in the school’s pit latrine and another is of the headteacher of the school who was reported to have allegedly impregnated a school girl from the same school.”

A 22 year old Gloria Namana, a mother of three and a resident of Bukembe village in Bungoma County , is a victim of GBV who has received help from the rescue center.

” My husband and I worked at a private school in Ahero, Kisumu County. I worked as a cook while he did other general duties. We saved a total of Ksh 45,000 in his KCB bank account. In July when we moved to Bungoma County, I asked him for part of the money to start a business but he started becoming violent. I reported the case at the GBV offices in Ndengelwa and I am glad I got help.” says Namana.

The rescue centre

“Gloria’s case is one of the 35 GBV cases that have been reported to the office this year. We have successfully handled most of these cases with the help of the police,” Nasimiyu says.

“Other cases are still pending in court. Tomorrow I will be attending a hearing of a rape case where a 69 year old man is accused of raping a 6 year old child. I hardly sit in the office, I am always on the move attending court hearings, reporting cases or going to get GBV victims.”

Nasimiyu adds that the rescue center has a vehicle that goes for the victims who are in bad shape and cannot make it to the center.

Jane Nekesa and John Masika, a couple from Muyai village in Bungoma County say that they have been married for 15 years without a child.

“My wife has been a victim of mockery, ridicule and physical assault from my family members,” says Masika, adding that he was forced to flee from home and rent a house together with his wife after she was physically assaulted two times by his relatives.

The couple were able to get help through the GBVoffices in Bungoma County and they even returned home. The couple however were yet again escorted today by Mary to file a third report of assault and they are confident that their issue will be sorted out.

Jane Nekesa and John Makisa at the police station where they were accompanied by Mary to report a GBV case. They had initially reported another case through the gbv Centre Bungoma which was successfully handled.

“We can only follow up and seek justice for reported GBV cases. Most cases here in Bungoma go unreported. This is a major challenge because we believe that every GBV victim deserves justice,” says Nasimiyu.

“Another challenge is inadequate personnel. The office of the Women Representative together with the OCPD and the County Government are currently in the process of recruiting a doctor, nurses, a counselor and matrons that will help in treating and taking care of the GBV Victims here.”

Nasimiyu adds that there are times she has had to stay with GBV victims at her home here because they were not safe in their own homes.

“The equipping of this centre with more personel will help the gbv victims to get full support here in terms of treatment, counseling and security. We have rooms here that will effectively accommodate the gbv victims that need relocation from home.” she notes.