Time is now for tackling the issue of SGBV survivors’ access to justice

 motorbikes impounded by police

Some of the motorbikes impounded by police during the recent crackdown. The repugnant assault of a woman motorist in Nairobi by a gang of boda boda ruffians has ignited the whole question of sexual and gender-based violence

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The repugnant assault of a woman motorist in Nairobi by a gang of boda boda ruffians has ignited the whole question of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), highlighting the need for the state, particularly, to address — with seriousness, action and commitment — the issue and, principally, violence against women and girls (VAWG), which remains sticky.

Every day in Kenya, women and girls are subjected to similar and even worse violent attacks that go unreported. The report on that brutal assault on Professor Wangari Maathai Road only became public days after it had happened, courtesy of a person who uploaded a footage on social media.

This would mean that the criminality and attendant justice could have ‘disappeared’, and the victim left to wallow in her trauma, had the public not reacted the way they did to the shocking attack. It would have joined hundreds of similar violations against women and girls, particularly, and even boys.

Defiled

One such revolting and beastly attack, this time on a 17-year old teenage girl, occurred in Igembe, Meru County, a few days before the Wangari Maathai Road assault but did not receive as much limelight.

The teenager was reportedly fleeing domestic violence (never mind that she is a child, who should not be in a marriage) when she fell into the hands of a criminal posing as a Good Samaritan. Instead of ferrying her to safety, the boda boda thug diverted into a forest, where he defiled her and then gouged out her eyes.

The story is too heart-rending to recount but, at the time of filing this article, reports indicated that a suspect was in police custody, awaiting arraignment, and the girl recuperating from the horrific injuries.

While the state has, in recent years, ramped up its commitment (and advocacy) on matters gender equality, including SGBV, violations against women will remain problematic if this is not accompanied by concrete action. If this issue is addressed with honesty, with an eye on eliminating gender inequality and disparity which disproportionately affect women, the country will make progress.

Haphazard stop-gap actions

Today, however, haphazard stop-gap actions appear to be what defines the SGBV fight—when a crisis pops up, such as that horrible attack on the motorist ahead of the International Women’s Day. We react instantly, only to revert to default mode until the next upheaval. The country needs to perform better in this aspect with tangible and permanent actions for real progress in the fight against SGBV and gender inequality as a whole.

On the positive side, Kenya has in place progressive laws—including constitutional protections and a national policy—to thwart SGBV. The Constitution provides for the right to access justice and related fairness, which include a wide range of associated safeguards and guarantees. But despite all this, access to justice remains the weakest link in the struggle to wipe out SGBV and VAWG.

Despite the robust advocacy by the civil society, and particularly women’s and human rights campaigners, justice for victims of SGBV and related violations is fundamentally unreachable. It is time the state revisited and addressed this serious concern.

A new report by the Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw) reveals that access to justice for SGBV victims remains elusive. In the over two-year research, Covaw identified inordinate delays in conclusion of court cases. The resultant effect is deep trauma and socioeconomic consequences for SGBV victims and their families, among other distresses.

As Covaw aptly and rightly concludes in “Delayed. Denied. Legal and Administrative Bottlenecks to Effective and Efficient Delivery of Justice for Survivors of SGBV in Kenya”, it is time the government acted to right this dismal situation whose delay in serving justice translates to denial of the same.

There is hope though, with last week’s launch by Chief Justice Martha Koome of the first of the special SGBV Courts. The CJ’s directive to the Judiciary against adjournments of SGBV-related cases, was also timely.


Ms Rugene, a consulting editor, is the founder of The Woman’s Newsroom Foundation. [email protected]

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