Organisations against gender-based violence in a procession on Nkrumah Road in Mombasa, August 2012. /NOBERT ALLAN
Kenya yet to erase stain of domestic violence despite progress
Violence against women that has manifested itself in varying forms is yet to be eradicated in Kenya despite decades of advocacy, experts told Xinhua as the International day for the elimination of violence against women was observed on Friday.
While acknowledging that reported cases of wife battering have slumped compared to several decades ago, experts and campaigners agreed that Kenya must overcome a myriad of hurdles to eliminate the retrogressive practice.
Dinah Simbiri, a Nairobi-based gender rights advocate, decried rampant physical and emotional abuse of women in the hands of their spouses, male relatives and co-workers.
“As a country, we are yet to conclusively deal with violence against women despite decades of advocacy and enactment of deterrent laws. Retrogressive cultural practices, poverty and ignorance among women in rural areas have created a fertile ground for abuse and discrimination against female gender,” Simbiri said.
The Kenya demographic survey of 2014 revealed that 45 percent of women aged 19 to 49 years old have experienced different forms of abuse in their lifetime.
The survey disclosed that Kenyan women and girls are still grappling with sexual violence, genital mutilation, forced marriages and disinheritance.
Simbiri noted that Kenya is not out of the woods yet as far as domestic violence is concerned, hence the need for robust campaigns and law enactment to eliminate the vice.
“Kenyan women are suffering silently as they experience different forms of abuse on a regular basis. We are still not yet out of the woods given the numerous cases of wife battery that have been reported in the media recently,” Simbiri told Xinhua.
Kenya was in the global spotlight in early August when news broke out that a woman’s hands were chopped off by her husband for failure to bear children.
National leaders and gender rights activists condemned the heinous act and urged severe punishment for the culprit.
Early this week, a female lawmaker from the nomadic Samburu community was severely beaten by her male colleague over political differences.
The incident elicited sharp condemnation from women leaders in Kenya and beyond.
Simbiri regretted that Kenyan women from all walks of life have to contend with abuse and discrimination despite gains achieved through affirmative action.
“The Kenyan society must begin a candid conversation on gender-based violence. Our criminal justice system must address this menace with renewed vitality,” Simbiri remarked.
Entrenched patriarchy, poverty, illiteracy and weak enforcement of laws have worsened violence against women in many Kenyan communities.
Ekai Nabenyo, a community rights advocate from Turkana County in northern Kenya, said domestic violence will remain a plague in the country until political, religious and cultural leaders take uncompromising stand against it.
“Our society is patriarchal hence the rampant abuse of women through violence, genital mutilation and denial of property ownership rights. We require new campaigns to change mindsets and regard women as equal to men,” said Nabenyo.
The Kenyan parliament has fast-tracked enactment of protection against domestic violence bill 2013 in order to revitalize legal action on perpetrators of the heinous crime.
Fanis Lisiagali, Project Director at HealthCare Assistance Kenya (HAK), said deterrent legal instruments alongside political goodwill and public awareness are crucial to minimize gender-based violence.
“Laws are not enough to end violence against women in Kenya. We need strong political commitment and participation of community leaders to fight this vice to its conclusive end,” said Lisiagali.
Kenya has domesticated global instruments that call for an end to all forms of violence and discrimination against women.
Lisiagali noted that Kenyan women and girls have gradually enjoyed rights and privileges enshrined in the constitution in the recent past.