By Yvonne Mwende
Notwithstanding significant attempts to curb Gender Based Violence (GBV), it still remains the most extreme expression of unequal gender relations in society and a violation of human rights. Arguably a major obstacle for the achievement of gender justice, posing a serious threat to democratic development and public health, and a critical barrier to achieving sustainable development, economic growth and peace.
Global estimates in 2014 show 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Though GBV affects both men and women, it disproportionally affects women and girls more.
Kenya, being a signatory to several international and regional conventions, treaties and human rights standards and programmes of action that seek to prevent or eradicate gender inequality and discrimination, does not fare any better.
The Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 shows that 45 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men age 15-49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15; whereas, 14 per cent of women and six per cent of men age 15-49 report having experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.
Gender-based violence directly violates 23 rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens contained in the Bill of Rights in Chapter Four of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. Some of these fundamental rights include the Right to life, equality and freedom from discrimination, human dignity and freedom and security of the person among others.
Changing norms and mindsets is perhaps the most difficult. If women, girls, men and boys are not safe, they cannot fully participate in the development of their society. Unfortunately, cultural dictates have informed some of these human violations. The most disparaging being that women and girls are supposed to be ‘disciplined’, are lesser human beings, are supposed to be subservient or even ask to be violated.
In 2009, university Professor Enrique Lynch wrote a controversial article on the Spanish national daily El Pais critiquing a campaign to promote ‘zero tolerance’ toward violence against women. In the article, ‘Revanchismo de género’ (‘Gender revenge’) Lynch argues that the approach of favouring women over men contributes to gender violence. More blistering, he claims that women themselves bear the responsibility for male violence. As you can imagine, this contemptuous, speak out of turn caused a heated debate to erupt, with several hundred phone calls and letters of complaint directed to the publisher.
The acceptance of violence against women and girls as the norm is perhaps more popular than we admit. The patriarchal social order has always been skewed and lacks inclusion. Until we internalize and relentlessly address this issue head-on, we will continue to battle with some form of human rights violations.