Public campaigns not enough
The ‘My Dress My Choice’ campaign in 2014 brought to the fore the serious issue of violence against women in Kenya. The fact that the violence happened in such a brazen manner in a public space and with great impunity was telling of how little human rights enshrined in our constitution are understood, respected and observed. Despite the fact that we have a raft of legislation dealing with sexual violence and physical harassment against both men and women (Sexual Offences Act, Penal Code), we continue to see numerous cases of sexual and physical abuse in Kenya. Most recently, the reported incidents of young women being allegedly drugged and assaulted in matatus has only confirmed the fact that a lot more needs to be done to secure champion and promote the right to nondiscrimination, right to dignity and right to life for women and girls.
Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) is a women human rights NGO in Kenya, which was an integral partner of the ‘My Dress My Choice’ campaign, and which offers free legal aid and psychosocial support to women and girls who are survivors of violence. Despite having programmed around sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) for over 15 years, we recognise that addressing SGBV holistically requires more to be done in addition to having powerful public campaigns such as my dress my choice and Justice for Liz. This is because addressing SGBV presents numerous challenges. First off, the prevalence of SGBV in multiple settings (homes, learning institutions, communities, workplace, etc.) complicates ability to effectively prevent and respond to genderbased violence. Secondly low rates of reporting due to stigma, unresponsive and complex criminal justice system, shoddy investigations and prosecution of GBV cases all present significant challenges and add to survivor fatigue. In many cases, survivors of violence get tired trying to navigate all the various GBV services by themselves, which include medical, psychosocial services, seeking legal advice and representation, and engaging with the criminal justice system. In addition, while some costs incurred in seeking assistance for a survivor are generally subsidised, other costs, such as for legal advice and representation, remain restrictively high, unless offered at reduced prices by donor-funded NGO’s.
Studies also indicate that while there exists sufficient legislation to address violence against women and girls, the poor implementation of national GBV-related laws and the lack of accountability of public authorities implementing them.
The author is a human rights lawyer, champion for gender equality and deputy director for Centre for Rights Education and Awareness