Nairobi falters in fight against gender violence

City Hall

The headquarters of the Nairobi City County Government located on City Hall Way on October 26, 2022. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

In November last year, former Nairobi Governor Anne Kananu signed into law the Nairobi City County Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Management and Control Bill, 2019.

The law was meant to give City Hall a platform on which to set up structures with the overall goal of accelerating efforts targeted at eliminating all forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and ensuring perpetrators are brought to book.

 Among the structures was the establishment of safe houses and ensuring proper policies and funding. Ms Kananu said the piece of legislation was crucial for residents as many women and girls suffer because of SGBV.

With the Act, she noted that ending all forms of violence against men, women and children, with a view to creating a gender-equal society, was now possible.

 “It is always said it is better to have a divorced daughter than a dead one,” said Ms Kananu during the signing ceremony.

 Ms Roselyn Mukabana, then head of SGBV response at the now defunct Nairobi Metropolitan Services, was optimistic that anchoring in law SGBV issues would create an efficient and rapid response. However, more than a year later, the county government has only made baby steps in implementing provisions of the law, which was sponsored by former nominated MCA Wanjiru Kariuki.

Referral system

The law seeks to have City Hall establish a clear and interconnected reporting and referral system to enable survivors to know where to report and get justice. It recommends the establishment of SGBV desks fully equipped with toll-free helplines in every ward.

To incentivise survivors, their right to privacy is guaranteed.

The system was to be linked to the police, healthcare providers, legal aid and psychological support. “We do not want the installation of just desks. We are asking for fully funded desks in the 17 constituencies,” said South B MCA Waithera Chege.

An SGBV management committee headed by the Gender and Youth Affairs executive would be established within 12 months of the operationalisation of the law. The committee would ensure there is sufficient and adequately trained staff to carry out planned interventions and undertake and promote research in SGBV.

The legislation also proposes the provision of a minimum package of healthcare services with the county government tasked to ensure better access to healthcare, whether public or private, and medical insurance providers facilitate access to healthcare services for the survivors without unnecessary impediments.

“The effective coordination mechanism specific to sexual and gender-based violence shall enhance strategic capacity information sharing and management,” said Ms Kariuki.

 Further, safe houses or shelters were to be set up in each of the 17 sub-counties to provide shelter to the survivors and ensure budgetary allocation for the facilities, as well as a witness protection programme.

 The safe houses are to offer temporary stay for victims and ensure access to an empowering environment through the provision of psychosocial support and other programmes appropriate for a survivor’s developmental and therapeutic needs.

Nairobi does not have a single county-funded safe house, though there are private shelters. A first permanent safe house was to be set up by July last year as a project between NMS and City Hall. That did not materialise. The county has two interim safe houses, a 76-bed capacity women’s and girls’ shelter in Kayole and a 20-bed capacity for men and boys in Shauri Moyo.

 In March 2021, NMS set up clinics dubbed “Tumaini Clinics” in 21 out of 24 new hospitals the national government agency had built to attend to SGBV survivors. In April this year, City Hall signed a deal with World Vision Kenya to pool resources to support operations at the Kayole safe house, with the former donating Sh6.7 million towards the project.

A month earlier, the county government had announced plans to construct a Sh88 million safe house at Mj wa Huruma in Karura Ward, Westlands Constituency. A title document for the land has already been issued by the National Land Commission.

This, too, has remained just that: a pledge, despite City Hall previously saying delays had been occasioned by lack of the title. City Hall was also to convert some idle county-owned houses into safe houses or isolation shelters, but that also remained just lip service.

SGBV is arguably the most widespread and socially tolerated human rights violation in Kenya. The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 2014, found that 45 per cent of women and girls aged 15 and above had experienced physical violence and 14 per cent had faced sexual violence.

In 2020, NMS health facilities reported 6,262 SGBV cases—about half of them being children—at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 According to the Kenya Health Information System in 2016, at least 1997 cases of sexual violence were recorded in Nairobi, followed by 2021 cases in 2017, which was a general election year.

The number increased in 2018 with 2,357 reported sexual violence cases. In 2019 the number dropped slightly to 2,023. In terms of sub-counties, Roysambu, Dagoretti South and Mathare record the highest number of reported sexual violence cases during the period.

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