Brian Kaitano, Maseno University, investigates the phenomenon of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, the costs to society and ways forward for Kenya to meet its commitment to the UN SDGs.
Ending Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in Kenya by Brian Kaitano.
Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) refers to harm or threat of harm perpetrated on a person based on her/his gender. It is rooted in unequal power relationships between men and women; and as such, women are more commonly affected. The term is often used interchangeably with ‘violence against women’ and can include sexual, physical, economic and psychological abuse. The six core types of SGBV includes: rape, sexual assault, forced marriage, denial of resources/opportunities/services, and psychological/emotional abuse.
Moreover, SGBV is a phenomenon that transcends social, economic, and geographic borders, impacting girls and women globally and becoming increasingly visible thanks to global movements. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2013, an estimated 35% of women have experienced intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a nonpartner. Over time, cross-country studies have consistently documented rates of intimate partner, domestic and sexual violence of at least 30% in various countries for women, with lower rates for men.
The Eastern and Southern Africa region has high rates of SGBV—in Kenya (girls 32%, boys 18%); in Malawi (girls 22%, boys 15%); and in Tanzania (girls 30%, boys 13%) (UNAIDS and UNFPA 2018). The foregoing evidence reveals that more girls than boys experience sexual violence before the age of 18 years. And every year, an estimated 246 million children are subject to some form of SGBV in or around schools—including mistreatment, bullying, psychological abuse, and sexual harassment, among others (UNESCO 2016).
The 2019 Kenya Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) found that 49% of girls and 48% of boys aged 13–17 years had experienced physical violence, and 11% of girls and 4% of boys indicated that they had experienced sexual violence (Republic of Kenya 2019). This seriously undermines the achievement of high-quality, inclusive, and equitable education for all children.
Key actors and coordination structures
Humanitarian actors have a responsibility to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. Ensuring an effective response requires a multi-sectoral and coordinated effort by a range of local, national and international actors. These include, for example:
- At the national level, displaced individuals and communities; ministries for justice, health, education, social services and the family; the parliament, particularly relevant legislative or monitoring committees; health care institutions and personnel; police; prosecutors; the military and para-military groups; traditional, customary or religious associations and councils; local NGOs and civil society, particularly women’s and youth organizations.
- At the international level, UNICEF and UNFPA serve as focal point agencies for GBV within the Global Protection Cluster. Other important actors include OHCHR, UNDP UNHCR, DPKO, WFP, WHO, ICRC/IFRC, IOM, and many international NGOs.
The government`s efforts to end Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)
The situation has been worsened by humanitarian crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and crises related to electoral periods, and this will continue without sustained action. Under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), all countries, including Kenya, committed to end all forms of SGBV by 2030.
Moreover, Kenya has policies and strategies to prevent and respond to SGBV. It launched the National Policy on Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence in 2014. Additionally, the Kenyan constitution has provisions for the protection of all individuals from any form of violence. These include: The Children’s Act (2001, revised in 2012), The Ministry of Education’s Gender Policy in Education (2007), The Kenya Sexual Offences Act (Act No. 3 of 2006) and The Basic Education Act (Act No. 14 of 2013).
In June 2021, the Government of Kenya made a valiant decision to end SGBV by 2026. When making the announcement, Kenya promised to intensify its campaign to end these violations by undertaking a series of 12 bold commitments that would remove the systemic barriers that allow SGBV to thrive. Among the 12 commitments feature: Investing $23 million for SGBV prevention and response by 2022 and increasing resource allocation up to $50 million by 2026 through a co-financing model; the full implementation of SGBV laws and policies by adopting SGBV indicators in the government performance contracting framework to track duty-bearers’ accountability on enforcement and implementation of SGBV laws and policies by 2022; investing $ 1 million annually for SGBV research and innovation to boost evidence-based programming by 2026 and scaling up the national police service integrated response to SGBV — “Policare” — and establishing SGBV Recovery Centers and shelters in all 47 Kenyan counties by 2026.
Who are the main perpetrators of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)?
The vulnerability of women and girls to SGBV in Kenya is deeply rooted in a culture where their levels of access to power and resources, as compared to men and boys, are very minimal. Practices such as polygamy, early/child, at times forced marriage, and Traditional Harmful Practices (THP) such as widowhood practices, among others are common.
SGBV is usually perpetrated by persons who hold positions of power or control others, whether in the private or public sphere. In most cases, those responsible are known to the victim/survivor — intimate partners, members of the (extended) family, friends, teachers or community leaders. Others in positions of authority, such as police or prison officials, and members of armed forces and groups, are frequently responsible for such acts, in particular in times of armed conflict. In some cases, this has also included humanitarian workers and peacekeepers.
Barriers to prevention and response to Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)
SGBV encompasses a range of harmful behaviors perpetrated against a person based on her/his gender. It is based on gender roles and norms that are rooted in unequal power relationships between men and women. Once again, as such, women and girls are more commonly affected. In communities characterized by male dominance, there is often a direct link to harmful and rigid gender norms that assert control over women and gender-diverse people, rendering them more vulnerable to violence. Multiple research suggests that certain cultural gender-related norms, including widespread acceptance of wife-beating or prioritized access to financial resources for men, are predictive of violence against women. Some of the common barriers to prevention and response to SGBV include judicial barriers, social / cultural / political factors, physical factors and humanitarian programming obstacles.
Prevention and response to Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)
In order to step up prevention and build a stronger response to violence when it occurs, it is essential for many different constituents to work together — governments, civil society, academia, media, affected populations, the United Nations, and the private sector. Ways forward would be to:
- Expand efforts to target harmful gender norms and educate young people, women, and men through comprehensive sexuality education, behavior change initiatives, and community-based programming.
- Engage men and boys in the prevention of violence and promotion of gender equality.
- Ensure and enforce legal protections and justice for survivors of SGBV.
- Increase equitable access to economic assets.
The benefits of ending SGBV
Eliminating gender-based violence and harmful practices is linked to the achievement of multiple SDGs and targets, including:
- SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
- SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
- SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Investing in the elimination of SGBV and harmful practices is both ethical and practical. While little evidence exists regarding the cost-effectiveness of SGBV interventions, the costs of inaction — including physical and mental health impairments, loss of productivity, and costs related to social, legal, and medical service provision — are staggering. The World Bank has estimated that financial losses due to intimate partner violence for a range of countries run from 1.2% to 3.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), equivalent to what many governments spend on primary education. Based on these numbers, a group of the world’s leading economists and Nobel Laureates found that investing in the elimination of all forms of SGBV is one of the most cost-effective SDG targets.
The Government of Kenya should continue honoring the 12 commitments to end all forms of SGBV by 2026. In addition, civil society organizations and the private sector should also intensify the fight against SGBV especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and election period since the situation will worsen without sustained action.
- FIDA Kenya, (2009). Women’s Land and Property Rights in Kenya Garcia-Moreno, “Dilemmas and opportunities for an appropriate health-service response to violence against women,” Lancet 359: 1509–1514 (2002)
- Kenya Vision 2030. Social Pillar
- UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). 2015. Education for All 2015: Achievement and Challenges; EFA Global Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO.
- World Health Organization (WHO) (2010) Preventing Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Against Women: Taking Action and Generating Evidence. Geneva: WHO.
- World Bank (2007) Whispers to Voices: Gender and Social Transformation in Bangladesh. Washington DC: World Bank.
- Equity Now (2021). Kenya Just Committed To End Gender Based Violence In Five Years. Here`s How They Plan To Do It.
- Yohannes Dibaba (2021). Violence against women in Kenya: Data provides a glimpse into a grim situation.
- Link up with Brian Kaitano via LinkedIn
- Read Brian Kaitano’s previous article on CoBS Insights: Digital Technologies: A key to post-pandemic inclusive and sustainable education
- Discover Maseno University, Kenya.
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