As the world today marks the International Women Day,lets ponder on something that affects the woman entity.
Violence against women is a global problem and Kenya is no exception. It’s more lethal than road accidents. Since time immemorial the woman entity has been subordinate to the man. Ironically though is the fact that her number compared to that of males is double. I’m tempted to quote Abraham Lincoln’s words “common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them.” replacing -common looking people - with woman. History records almost exclusively the accomplishments of men when in fact much of it is due to the determined, unrelenting and charitable oppressed majority read as woman. Think of all the places afflicted by great poverty, Kenya for instance where the price of 1kg unga is higher than a dollar. Where a vast majorities per capita is less than the dollar. A woman at times with the help of her husband through this uncertainty will try to manage for the family. Engaging in both legal and illegal ways to avail a meal. It’s almost always that women will manage to preserve human dignity, defend the family unit and to protect cultural and religious values.
On the other hand though, violence against women is an imported agenda. Hold your horses, as well as that hot breath and relax the raised eyebrow. Let me expound on a hypotheses. During the times of our forefathers, pre-colonial era to be precise; women were to be seen and not heard. Loudly echoed by Marjorie Oludhe in her book “Coming to Birth” as well as other African writers. Wife beating was a sign of love on the part of the man. Wife inheritance as well as polygamy was all with the “best” interests in mind of the woman. Then came the mzungu with a doctrine, Beijing convention and everything changed. Equality, human rights and other new vocabularies found their way in our society. Like a new sponge we were more than ready to absorb and take in new ideas. As earlier pointed out-women were to be seen and not heard- did not mean that they were deaf. Epiphany. Hearing transformed to actions and viola! The once adherents’ of traditions and beliefs of their great grandmothers “broke” away their shackles. What had tied and restricted their freedoms were now no more. Gender equality, egalitarian society and prenuptial rights were just but a few interests championed by other women outside Kenya and Africa at large. The psychological card was used-if it happened elsewhere why not here? Things began to fall apart, the centre could not hold. Women had “known” of their rights, their line had been crossed and personal space intruded. All this an imported agenda.
Is violence against women an issue in Kenya then? Better yet when and what surmount to violence against women? One, Violence against women begins or is manifested when force or power is used to make a woman do, whether willingly or not something they would not have otherwise done .Failure lead to repercussions. Purposing that the End justifies the means. The violence includes and is not limited to :sexual abuse including rape and incest by family members, forced marriages, dowry related violence, marital rape, sexual harassment, intimidation at work leading to resignations ; thus not surprising that women are increasingly dominating the ranks of the impoverished also feminization of poverty, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced sterilization ,forced labor, trafficking and forced prostitution and not forgetting Female Genital Multination is an umbrella term for procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons . Violence can be seen as an indicator of the need to have a method at preventing STD and HIV/AIDS infections and re-infections in women. A lot of women who are married or are in stable sexual relationships are being infected and re-infected because when they know their partner had other affairs, women's low status in relationship precipitate the fear and possibility of violence and rejection which makes it impossible for them to negotiate for safer sex. The fact that women and children continue to be traded abused and defiled for the sake of basic commodities such as food and survival in their communities, in the internally displaced people’s camps and basically in their country. All of these forms of violence are associated with power inequalities. Of the mentioned, a majority if not all the mentioned happen in our midst. Yes. Right here in Kenya. Surprised? I highly doubt. I have a few examples of violence against women from various parts of the country.
Case in study one, is Mbithe,who hails in Kitise division of Makueni district. Unkempt hair growing prematurely at the temples. Her bones protrude through her blouse that has seen better days. Pulls absently on the hem of her dirty blue skirt. An orphan at 15, she was “married of” to Muteve a chatty granny with a wig of white hair. She has nine children. The two eldest children class eight drop out. She works by digging terraces or constructing fences for their fairly well off neighbors. Her husband a retired civil servant awaits his pension. The other members of his family who earn a salary are Mbithe’s two daughters-the class eight drop outs-who work as house girls in Nairobi. Recently one of her young daughter was impregnated by the village elder, Makau. Who refused the responsibility? Mbithe cannot file a case against the man because she is not only financially unable but also the society requires the husband of the homestead to take up the matter to the necessary authorities. Muteve is friends with Makau who always bribes him with a jar of traditional brew whenever Muteve brings up the issue. As sad as this is, Mbithe is forced to be accept the foggy fate of her child.
Case in study two, is 69 year old Jane Nyahira who lives in Kirinyaga at her parents home. She is a victim of both fistula and hysterectomy. This shattered her dreams of ever having children of her own. This pushed her husband to marry another woman who gave him children and did not have the problems Nyahira did. The fistula had caused a leak in her bladder that seeped out urine. This caused a pungent smell around her. This sent her packing to her parents who after a while of bearing with the situation got tired of the stench. So they built her a house away from their homestead where she lived in isolation and destitution. The disease is associated with social stigma. This is because of the constant smell of stool or urine, so she tended to avoid society all together. Untreated fistula leads to shrinking of the birth canal; this greatly affects her sexual relations and can easily lead to domestic violence, battering and even broken marriages.
Case in study three, Jasmine Muyobe* (not her real name) recounts the tale of one night after the announcement of the disputed presidential poll results in Kenya in 2007. The single mother of four children spend the day terrified, behind closed doors in her house flinching at the gunshots that filled the air.
"It was two days after the announcement of the presidential results and the violence was raging. I live near a slum and soon the chaos moved from the informal settlement into the suburbs. That evening someone knocked hard at my gate calling out my neighbor’s name. I went to talk to the person and when he said he wanted to see my neighbor who was not around, I decided to open the gate," Muyobe says.
But the stranger pushed the young mother back into her house and proceeded to rape her repeatedly all night long.
"My children were asleep. They had no idea what was going on. Early the next morning, he left without a word as if nothing had happened.
"From that day my life changed… I chose not to talk to anyone about the rape. A month later, in February 2007, I discovered I was pregnant and infected with HIV," Muyobe says. Almost two years after that fateful evening, Muyobe told her story to a group of journalists and representatives of human rights organizations documenting testimonies of women who survived sexual violence during the post-election violence. As a result of the delay in announcing the hot contested elections, tension and anxiety was brewing. Escalating with every minute. The country was itching and scratching in discomfort. A wave of uncertainty enveloped the nation. When ECK declared the winner, hell broke loose. Neighbours went against the grail; hacking, maiming, destruction, anger and suspicion. Houses were not only robbed of their property but of their dignity as well. The once friends became fiend. Kenya was burning. Violence aimed at women was rampant - manifested in rape, physical assault, harassment, as well as verbal abuses. Waki report can attest. Violence against women, right here in Kenya! “Violence against women has been systematic and entrenched in our society, but the post-election period saw an unprecedented number of women subjected to widespread sexual violence," says Rosemary Okello, executive director of another partner in the documentary project, the African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWCFS), which promotes diversity, gender equity, social justice and development in Africa through media, training and research.
"Many women were sexually assaulted, gang raped or sodomised. Many of these acts of sexual violence occurred in the presence of the women's spouses, children or parents causing trauma, humiliation and stress suffered by the survivors and their families. Women survivors become guiltier than the perpetrators of the violence," says Urgent Action Fund (UAF-Africa), executive director Jessica Nkuuhe.
The women fear to share what they have been through because they are afraid of stigma and being deserted by their families, especially their spouses. They thus shut down and unfortunately this ordeal eats at their very existence, giving rise to depression and eventually some lose the will to live and die miserable."
Kenyan Member of Parliament, Millie Odhiambo says unless women speak out, sexual offences committed in times of conflict will go unpunished. The Gender Violence Recovery Centre at the Nairobi Women's Hospital the only center of its kind in East and Central Africa provides the following data. Over 80% (356) of the cases that they treated at the center were sexual violence related. Of these 80%, 93% of them were adult women survivors with the rest accounted for by children and men. 9% were of physical assault, 7% domestic violence related cases and 4 % were of indecent assault. They further reported attending to over 650 cases of sexual violence during the chaos. Anecdotal evidence suggests thousands of other women across the country survived similar violence.
The violence that rocked Kenya in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 presidential elections brought to the fore an already well known phenomena – sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). The violence that was witnessed in the country is not new, what may have been new is the magnitude, intensity and spread. An examination of the 1992 – Molo Clashes, 1997 - Likoni clashes and other land/ethnic clashes (Wagalla massacre et al) that have chequered the history of Kenya, reveal that the site on which these conflicts have been staged has been on women’s bodies and their person. In the aftermath of the 1997 clashes, a woman resident at the Maela camp where women were frequently raped by security personnel when they left camp in search for food or for work as day labourers noted: ‘even though we knew this was likely to happen we continued to work because our children were hungry and we had no choice’ (Amnesty. 2004).
Violence against women is a well acknowledge weapon of war; a tool used to achieve military objectives… many forms of violence that women suffer during armed conflict are gender specific both in result and nature (Amnesty. 2004)’. While this is treated as a fact, energy is often directed towards establishing the perpetrators, financers and sustainers of clashes with little energy or time devoted to the gendered dimensions and repercussions of the conflict and by this we mean the impact of clashes on women. It begs the question – where are our priorities – where is our focus? Where is our focus in Kenya?
>Over half a million women continue to die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes.
> Rates of HIV infection among women are rapidly increasing. Among those 15-24 years of age, young women now constitute the majority of those newly infected, in part because of their economic and social vulnerability.
> Gender-based violence kills and disables as many women between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer. More often than not, perpetrators go unpunished.
> Worldwide, women are twice as likely as men to be illiterate.
> As a consequence of their working conditions and characteristics, a disproportionate number of women are impoverished in both developing and developed countries. Despite some progress in women’s wages in the 1990s, women still earn less than men, even for similar kinds of work.
> In addition, the new challenges for women’s empowerment and gender equality that have emerged over the past decade, such as the feminization of the AIDS epidemic.
In light of all that has been mentioned and witnessed ,that for a fact violence against women is an issue in Kenya. What ought to be done ? What have you done? To begin with this essay is my continued effort to create awareness not only to my fellow women but to the men as well. Gender-based violence is an issue that concerns all men and not just those that behave violently; in this way the roots of male violence, which is the one of the foundations of patriarchy, can be explored. It’s really saddening that some women have accepted this marginalizing yoke of violence against them. We need to speak and write about this violence against women. The pen is mightier than the sword. I hope this documentation will be part of healing for survivors, as well as creating a vivid and accurate record of gender-based crimes committed both for prosecution and for the historical memory of the country.
Further more, other strategies to avert if not curb fervor against women can include:
* Reveal and question the values promoting or glamorizing violence – competition,hardness, insensitivity, idolizing winners in war, sports and business life.
* Analyze and question male roles and ideals, the concept of “male honour” prevailing in male cultures.
* Develop and value fatherhood; develop the skills and qualities of fatherhood among men and boys.
* Integrate a gender perspective into school education to create awareness of the different positions of boys and girls within the family, in culture and reproduction,and to promote their development into balanced personalities and into men and women in a relationship of equality and mutual respect.
* Develop legislation on violence against women to criminalize gender violence in all forms and provide women with protection when facing violence or being threatened by it.
* Increase the number of shelters for women and support the work of shelters and counselling services.
* Help men to abandon their violent behaviour by establishing support and therapy services and providing appropriate therapies.
* Encourage men to establish their own groups and voluntary activities to combat men’s violence against women, and support such movements.
* Increase the proportion of women in politics, foreign policy and international decision-making.
* Promote and further secure equality between women and men both through legislative and administrative means and through changing public opinion and shaping attitudes and values, thus building a culture of equality and peace.
“Indeed, violence against women”, said the then UN secretary general, Kofi Annan in 1999, “knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. It’s perhaps the most shameful human right violation”. And he added it is “perhaps the most pervasive". Is violence against women an issue in Kenya? YES IT IS.