"War and struggle have bruised and battered our bodies
Patriarchy and his emissaries have tortured and traumatised our minds
Now your prisons threaten to break our spirits
Yet we rise in resistance
We stand not merely in solidarity but in the recognition of self in them
Even in darkness still we will rise, we will acquiesce no more” Rudo Chigudu
On 17th November 2014, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Nairobi to condemn the public stripping, abuse and humiliation of three women in seperate incidents for allegedly dressing immodestly. These attacks were filmed and shared widely on social media, prompting a national discussion on violence against women. In recent years, similar attacks have also been orchestrated against women in Malawi, South Africa , Zimbabwe and Uganda . Sadly, this is just one type of violence in a multitude of other sins which are committed against women in violation of global human justice. There are still issues such as marital rape, sexual violence, early and forced marriage, dowry-related violence, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment to contend with. What then, is the real underlying narrative behind these archaic acts of gender-based street violence?
There are still many outdated attitudes regarding violence against women and these attitudes as well as the acts themselves need to be addressed. It comes as a shock that in this day and age there is still a patronizing attitude towards how women dress and that some people readily blame male violence on a female’s appearance. Rape and abuse cannot and must not be rationalized. It is beyond ludicrous to hold women responsible for violence against them with no accountability whatsoever for the perpetrator’s actions . Women are raped and abused irrespective of clothing or age, with eighty-year old women being victims of male violence. However, the main reaction to have emerged from recent national debates on the matter is the reinforcement of a patriarchal social structure which perpetuates the objectification of women and readily tries to fortify male power and domination over women as a group.
The importance of combatting ambivalence towards violence against women cannot be emphasized enough. It can be appreciated that not all men commit acts of violence but still, many men remain bystanders in that they do not speak out or challenge other men's misogyny or violence committed against women. By not speaking out, men inadvertently condone stereotypical attitudes and justify male violence against women. In order to see positive changes, everybody must be held to account. This does not mean putting one’s self in harm’s way during an assault but rather calling the police or raising an alarm in case of a violent incident.
In the same vein, the press isn’t the mediator of discussions on violence against women but they have an obligation to be on the front line to provide information about sexual violence as well as increase awareness of it and publicise strategies to address it. Further to this, there should be a great focus and emphasis on educational programmes that focus on gender equality. Traditional African circumcision ceremonies should be used as an effective avenue of teaching boys to defy the social structures and stereotypes that have served to normalize violence against women. These ceremonies are often accompanied by a few days of life teachings by elderly men to the boys and thus an avenue is already available to address pertinent issues concerning women.
Governments should show a strong will to prevent and stop gender-based violence (GBV) and also to promote a coherent and coordinated response to GBV. This also involves improving the health sector response to sexual violence and implementing medico-legal care guidelines. Restorative justice for the victims is also an important part of recovery and a comprehensive conceptual framework is needed. An example has already been developed in Kenya whereby one-stop centers have been established for victims of sexual violence to receive medical care and counseling and also give evidence to the police, all in the same building where they feel safe. However, women need to become involved by forming associations and groups to act as peer support networks for women who are vulnerable to or have faced GBV. In some cases, this can also involve vocational training to help victims rebuild their lives.
This further means that governments should renew commitments towards women in order to implement the necessary political, legal and institutional frameworks to protect women’s rights to which freedom from violence are inextricably bound. The dialogue can be carried out in consultation with development partners, civil society organizations, private sector and non -governmental organizations so as to add value and enhance women’s rights in every sector. Rwanda serves as an apt example because they have ratified, domesticated and popularized international and regional conventions and implemented legal and policy frameworks to serve as a foundation to better tackle the challenges of gender-based violence. NGOs are also becoming involved in combatting GBV, with NGOs such as Maisha e.v, and the GBV Prevention Network setting up centres in Kenya where victims of GBV can receive help.
As it stands, Kenya is already a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1979), and the Platform for Action adopted at the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995). It is about time these conventions stopped being words on a piece of paper and started being honouredIn saying all of this, there is no presumption that women should not act sensibly and be aware of their personal safety but the obligation is not on women to stay indoors, cover up or take up arms. The obligation rather, should be on perpetrators not to carry out brutal assaults or rapes. Women should not constantly limit their activities because of fear of potential assailants. In fact, women’s priorities should lie beyond worrying about what someone else thinks about the shoes they are wearing or the length of their skirt.
Gender based violence is a gross violation of human rights and an obstacle to women’s progress. The humiliation of those three women referenced at the beginning of this piece is also the shared humiliation of our mothers, wives, daughters and friends. It is also a sad reminder of how far society has degenerated. Maisha e.v puts the number of women who are sexually assaulted in Kenya as one out of 3. If ever I have a daughter, I refuse to raise her in a country where 32% of girls are victims of sexual violence before becoming adults. I further refuse to stand by and do nothing as people lay blame on women who have been sexually assaulted. As Rudo Chigudu said, even in darkness still we will rise, we will acquiesce no more.
Written by N. Wayua and published on 16-December-2014