What you need to know:
- Our societies have normalised sexual violence to the extent that it can be a point of humour or a joke.
- Action must be collective, decisive, and inclusive if we are to get closer to a more equal world.
Every time you hear a survivor’s story: Listen. Believe. Support.
As Covid-19 persists, so does violence against women and girls. Gender-based violence (GBV) spreads like a disease, and will continue thriving if we stay silent.
According to the national GBV toll-free helpline HAK 1195, 5,009 cases were reported between January and December 2020, an increase of 1,411 cases from 2019.
According to research carried out by the National Crime Research Centre, the most common forms of GBV identified are physical assault, rape/attempted rape, murder, sexual offences, defilement, grievous harm, physical abuse, child marriages, psychological torture and child neglect.
The prevalence of GBV in our society lies in the acceptance and perpetuation of rape culture. Our societies have normalised sexual violence to the extent that it can be a point of humour or a joke.
Action must be collective, decisive, and inclusive if we are to get closer to a more equal world.
Sitting back and keeping silent threatens to reverse the gains we have worked so hard to make. In the household, classroom, workplace, newsroom among others, there are many practical actions we all should take to call out and halt the rape culture:
Listen to survivors
Every time someone speaks up about her experience of sexual violence and he or she is not believed, rape culture flourishes. When a survivor speaks up, they are likely to receive comments such as: “Why didn’t she leave?”
“What was she wearing?”
Instead, the response should be: We hear you. We see you. We believe you.
Rape culture tends to use language that blames the victims, objectifies women and normalises sexual harassment. We all should flip the narrative and transfer the blame and shame onto perpetrators, using the power of language to support survivors. Rape culture thrives on our silence. This we must end, and demand accountability from the perpetrator.
Broaden understanding of rape culture
Across time and contexts, rape culture takes many forms. It is important to recognise that rape culture goes beyond the narrow notion of a man assaulting a woman as she walks alone at night.
For instance, rape culture encompasses a wide array of harmful practices that rob women and girls of their autonomy and rights such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Know the factors that underpin rape culture and the myths that surround it. While many agree that rape is wrong, the normalisation and trivialisation of sexual violence and sexual harassment, through words, actions and inaction, will lead us down a slippery slope of rape culture.
Be an active bystander
Intervening as an active bystander signals to the perpetrator that their behaviour is unacceptable and may help someone stay safe. First, assess the situation to determine what kind of help, if any, might be appropriate.
You may be able to support the target of sexual harassment by asking how they are or if they would like help, or by documenting the incident, creating distractions to diffuse the situation or making a short and clear statement directly to the perpetrator such as, “‘I am uncomfortable with what you are doing,” or “this is a criminal offence.”
Psychosocial services that are critical at all times — need for community-based services/technology-based services/youth friendly services. If possible, try and link survivors to legal services and a strengthened voice, especially to networks to walk with them.
You can call the national toll-free helping on 1195 to seek out how you can access these services or support others to do so.
The extensive coverage of brutality demonstrates that an acceleration in action cannot come sooner. The role of government remains central to responding to sexual violence by ensuring quality, accessible, affordable and timely survivor-centre services.
As a new roadmap for a more equal society is being redrawn, everyone has a role to play. We are generation equality, and we support survivors.
Anna Mutavati is UN Women Kenya Country Representative