This is what works towards gender justice in Kenya

A mother to two underage victims of gender-based violence during an interview in Tigoni, Limuru on December 2, 2020. 

Photo credit: Kanyiri Wahito | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Although awareness around violence against women and girls (VAWG) and the impact on women’s and girls’ health, education and livelihoods has increased, there is an emerging challenge of the singularity of community interventions aimed at response rather than prevention mechanisms.
  • There is need to put in place a multi-pronged approach to address the root causes that normalise VAWG.

The 2020 commemoration of the global “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” sought to coalesce collective action towards gender justice defined as the full equality and equity between women and men in all spheres of life, resulting in women jointly, and on an equal basis with men, defining and shaping the policies, structures and decisions that affect their lives and society as a whole.

Although awareness around violence against women and girls (VAWG) and the impact on women’s and girls’ health, education and livelihoods has increased, an emerging challenge that persists is the singularity of community interventions aimed at response rather than prevention mechanisms, which would entail longer term investment aimed at challenging socialising agencies that reinforce social, economic and political subordination of women.

The persistence of structural and physical violence practiced across economic, social and political strata despite creation of multiple State institutions invites the question; what works in gender justice?

Transforming behaviour

There is need to put in place a multi-pronged approach to address the root causes that normalise VAWG, targeting key socialisation agents and institutions (such as; family, schools, community transitional initiation processes, religion, media, arts and entertainment – songs and sayings), which are used to entrench negative patriarchal beliefs, attitudes and actions, with a view to transforming behaviour, and garnering innovative efforts for a concerted push towards prevention and redress of VAWG.

This multi-agency approach focuses on enhancing the referral chain of service providers’ institutional coordination on the supply side, while strengthening women’s voices, survivors’ networks and other key advocates’ voices from the national, county and community level to advocate for enhanced service provision and behaviour change among individual and institutions mandated to address injustices and enhance gender justice.

Such an approach supports the mobilisation of key actors and building of local capacities for action against gender injustice and social protection among rights-holders; advocate for greater resource investment in tackling and preventing VAWG.

Patriarchal context

Second, while Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality speaks of ending all discrimination against women and girls as being not only a basic human right, but crucial for sustainable future, matching resources and specifically funding to community-based support groups will often mark the difference between prevention and making a new entry in the gender-based violence (GBV) survivors’ list. Aware of the patriarchal context enabling VAWG, both national and county governments need to fund and sustain initiatives at the community level with capacity to prevent and respond to VAWG cases.

For instance, initiatives like the National Police Service led Policare – a one stop centre for addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases - is just one of the innovative ways of addressing them through a full spectrum approach and should be established across all the police stations.

Similarly, equality and inclusion and gender technical working groups play a key role in mitigating VAWG. It is imperative that the government (national and county) take responsibility to fund such community-based initiatives for prevention and response to gender injustices including SGBV.

Different social groups

The concept of ‘gender responsive budgeting’ (GRB) comes in handy here. Government budgets are not just a technical compilation of incomes and expenditures. It is the most important policy statement made by the Executive in the course of the year.

Budgets have the potential to either increase or reduce the burdens and/or vulnerabilities of different social groups, or to improve their capacities and capabilities. They can also encourage positive and/or negative behavioural changes.

Third, it is proven that empowering women and girls helps economic growth and development, enables women to have a voice together with men at the community decision-making table, thus both can chart collectively on political and development futures of the community without the marginalisation of the other.

Disempowerment shows up in the normalisation of GBV, which is a manifestation of the existing power inequalities between women and men, girls and boys, and encompasses a wide array of human rights violations.

Joint activities

It also includes rampant gender injustices inbuilt in societal norms and belief systems entrenched in the practice of various communities. Thus, it is critical to strengthen women’s capacity to mobilise and organise joint activities to enhance their collective voice, power and agency to demand for respect for women’s rights and gender justice.

This entails supporting women’s and gender-sensitive men’s organisations to amplify their voice, agency and power in challenging patriarchy, and demanding accountability from government to end VAWG as a manifestation of gender injustice and to develop initiatives that address deeply rooted cultural behaviour, negative patriarchal perspectives, norms and practices that continue to compromise safety and security for women and girls.

The writer is the Chief of Party- REINVENT Programme- a 5-year UK Aid funded community safety and security programme that works in 18 counties across Kenya.

reinventkenya@tetratech.com; @ReinventProgramme on Twitter.

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