Can stiffer laws deter gender violence? Here's what experts say

Crime scene. Cases of femicide have been on the rise.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Domestic or intimate partner violence is a social pandemic in Kenya.
  • It has huge economic costs, considering the lost income-generation opportunities and money diverted to medication and legal fees.

On January 19, President William Ruto’s women rights agency adviser, Harriet Chiggai, told journalists she intended to push for stiffer penalties for domestic violence perpetrators.

Her office had called for a media briefing to condemn the horrifying rise in the killing of women, some butchered in an unimaginable manner. On Rita Waeni's murder, for instance, the police said the perpetrator used a hacksaw to slice her off.

Domestic or intimate partner violence is a social pandemic in Kenya, with huge economic costs on the lives of the affected, considering the lost income-generation opportunities and money diverted to medication and legal fees.

From the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey data, married women in the country are more likely to experience physical violence from their current husbands or intimate partners, at 54 per cent, two times the global average of 27 per cent.

Similarly, 34 per cent of the ever-partnered women are likely to suffer the same fate from a former husband or intimate partner. A 43-year-old man, for example, stabbed and injured his ex-wife and new lover in Kiambu two weeks ago.

At the same time, 70.9 per cent of ever-partnered women have suffered sexual violence from current husband or intimate partner, and 19.2 per cent from former husband or intimate partner.

Spain is often singled out as a country that has set an example in tackling domestic violence.

Going by the United Nations Statistics Division data, Spain has the least number of women who have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in the last 12 months.  

The country’s Ministry of Equality macro-survey on violence against women in 2019 revealed that 1.8 per cent of women aged 16 years and over had been victims of physical and/or sexual violence from a current or former partner in the last 12 months. 

And over a lifetime, 14.2 per cent had suffered the same.

Spain is often quoted for taking the lead in fighting domestic violence owing to the fact that it became the first country in Europe to pass laws specific to address gender violence.

On December 28, 2004, the Spanish government passed the Organic Act on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence. An important highlight in this law is the use of the education system to instil values of respect for humanity.

The law makes it clear that children from the pre-school level are introduced to conflict-solving skills, which are further advanced at primary level. By the end of school, they are knowledgeable on the peaceful solution of conflicts and defending sexual equality.

This is missing in Kenya’s Protection against Domestic Violence Act (2015), which gives power to courts to direct parties involved in domestic violence to go for counselling or mediation.

Additionally, there are at least 17 courts designated for prosecution of gender-based offences (GBV) in Spain, compared to Kenya’s five, besides the six GBV registries.

But can stiffer penalties deter domestic violence?

In an earlier interview, gender expert Enock Opuka recommended proper upbringing as a pivotal preventative measure.

“With discipline, a boy knows how to respect a girl and a girl knows how to respect a boy,” Dr Opuka said.

While Equality Now End Sexual Violence programme officer Jean Paul Murunga said before introducing new laws, the existing ones ought to be effectively implemented.

“If we don't implement the laws we already have, additional penalties will just be on paper but in reality none is convicted,” he said.