Homa Bay: Hardly a day passes without a police report on GBV

Women in Kakamega, led by county first lady Janet Barasa (front, second right) march in Mumias during the launch of the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence on November 25. 

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Homa Bay County has made little progress in addressing SGBV cases.
  • County Commissioner says between 50 and 100 cases of SGBV are reported to government agencies in the county every month.
  • Some people prefer settling gender violence cases at home.
  • Over the past four years, county departments have been working on guidelines for identifying and dealing with SGBV. 

Since the advent of devolution a decade ago, Homa Bay County has made little progress in addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Despite hosting a number of non-governmental organisations that deal with children and women’s rights, SGBV cases are still high.

Hardly a day passes without a woman or a teenage girl walking to a police station to report a case of either physical or sexual assault. Unfortunately, little or no action is taken against the perpetrators.

In a village in Kasipul, Rose (not her real name) is seeking justice after she was defiled and impregnated by a man she knew and trusted. The incident happened in August 2021, when she was 17 and in Class Seven.

When she hit 18 years, she was considered an adult and left to fend for her child on her own. She had to drop out of school to avoid her friends, who would laugh at her.

Her tribulations started when she was kicked out of her parents’ house following a domestic squabble. Rose thought the best place to stay as she tried to solve her issues with her mother was at her friend’s house.

“The man is a boda boda rider. We had been friends until the time I decided to seek refuge at his house,” she says.

Protecting victims

She thought the man would welcome her and give her a place to sleep for a while until she could go back home. But the rider instead defiled her, repeatedly.

Her parents soon learned about her whereabouts and resolved to save her, but it was too late.

“I discovered that I was pregnant. The person who was supposed to help me when I was sent away from home was the one who took advantage of my innocence,” Rose says.

When she told the man about her condition, he threatened and disowned her.

“He said he would not take responsibility despite knowing very well that he had ruined my life,” Rose recalls.

Her child is now five months old and she has no one to rely on apart from her mother. Her family could barely afford to feed her and the child, so she dropped out of school to fend for herself and her child.

It infuriates Rose that the man is still free.

“He spent some time in the police cells after my mother stormed the house I shared with him. He was later released,” she says.

Rose is one of many young girls who suffer at the hands of people who often go unpunished for their deeds.

Even though there are laws protecting victims of SGBV, there are no proper mechanisms to implement them in the county.

County Commissioner Moses Lilan says between 50 and 100 cases of SGBV are reported to government agencies in the county every month. He says the number could be higher since some parents settle such matters at the family level.

“Our county hosts many NGOs that deal with cases of GBV. Unfortunately, we cannot feel their impact on the ground,” Mr Lilan says.

Gender-based inequalities

The Covid-19 pandemic and its negative impact on the economy worsened the situation. It brought into sharp focus pre-existing gender-based inequalities and barriers that women and girls face.

According to Homa Bay Law Society of Kenya chairperson Quinter Adoyo, there are many SGBV cases in the county. She says she has handled such cases in the past, but the victims often weakened the prosecution cases out of fear, ignorance and bribery.

“Some people prefer settling cases at home,” Ms Adoyo says.

The lawyer advises teenagers who have been defiled and impregnated not to give up on education after they give birth.

“Most teenagers drop out of school after giving birth. Conceiving does not mean your life dream should end. There are people who have been successful in life despite being abused when they were children,” the LSK official says.

Over the past four years, different departments within the county have been working on guidelines for identifying and dealing with SGBV. The Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Policy is expected to help in prevention, protection and coordination of response to SGBV cases.

The document is part of multi-sectoral efforts to end SGBV in the devolved unit. It addresses the social, political and economic costs of all forms of violence against boys, girls, women and men and provides guidelines on how to address them.

As Homa Bay joined other counties in marking the 16 days of activism against GBV on Friday, the county government and stakeholders in the gender sector working group revealed plans to launch the policy at the end of the campaign in Mfangano Island.

Sexual violence

According to the document, Homa Bay is listed among counties that have more SGBV cases than the national average.

Rape and defilement top the list of the vices affecting women and girls at 38.6 per cent and 30.1 per cent, respectively, against the national average of 12.9 per cent and 7.1 per cent, respectively.

Adolescents between ages 15 and 19 suffer the most from sexual violence, while women between 40 and 49 years are the hardest hit by physical violence, according to the data sourced from the Kenya Demographic Health Survey.

The county is ranked second in Kenya in terms of teenage pregnancies.

Some of the factors identified as causing rising SGBV cases in the county include limited capacity of the heath, security and justice sectors to effectively respond to cases.

There are also socio-cultural factors that promote gender-based discrimination and inequality as well as lack of awareness on existing laws, policies and programmes on SGBV.

According to experts, there is also a lack of shelter and safe spaces for GVB survivors.

Failure by the government to allocate funds to address SGBV, as well as low literacy levels, lack of will, inadequate sex education and poor monitoring and evaluation mechanisms have also been cited as some of the factors fuelling the rise in SGBV cases.

SGBV policy

According to county Gender Director William Otago, a lot of teenagers are at risk as schools close for two months.

“The campaigns we shall carry out during the 16 days are geared towards creating awareness about protection of children’s rights,” he says.

The planned SGBV policy outlines plans to establish a safe house where victims can run to if they feel threatened at home. It also seeks to strengthen referral pathways to enable survivors to access services, establish a 24-hour toll free number to address SGBV cases, and strengthen gender desks and establish a child protection unit in every sub-county police station.

Other interventions include; capacity building for law enforcers and public health personnel; allocating funds for economic support of SBGV survivors; strengthening data collection and analysis; and developing an SGBV referral directory.

Gender and Social Services Executive Sarah Malit asked chiefs and other national government administrators to ensure perpetrators of such vices are arrested and charged.

“Without cooperation from other partners we will not be able to achieve our goal,” she said.

Gender Sector Working Group vice-chairperson Zahra Hassan, pointed to the need to empower women and girls. She said women in Homa Bay should be educated on property inheritance to save widows from mistreatment by their in-laws.

She added that the soon-to-be launched gender policy will enable the county to identify and end negative cultural practice.

“Let’s have this discussion and allocate resources to vulnerable communities to curb vices affecting the county. We also need a one-stop shop that can provide all services affecting women and girls, including counselling and reproductive health,” Ms Hassan said.

Population Services Kenya’s Charles Orora, said his organisation is implementing a programme in which it is conducting sensitisation exercises to eliminate harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and SGBV. It is also working to promote sexual reproductive health through capacity building for health-care workers to mitigate SGBV.

Referral networks

The project aims at ensuring zero gender-based violence and harmful practices, zero preventable maternal deaths and zero unmet need for contraception.

Mr Orora added that his organisation is also helping the county to draft a policy on behaviour change.

A study conducted by Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and Aids (Kelin) in Homa Bay in 2019 indicated there was a challenge in reporting and documenting GBV.

The findings revealed that the channels for reporting the cases are fairly varied in the community and dependent on prevailing situations and the urgency with which a case needs to be handled.

It established that cases are mainly reported at the chief’s office, health facilities and police stations, with the primary point of reporting sexual assault being the health facility due to the time-sensitive nature of the violation.

Kelin partnered with the county government to develop a GBV referral document and a referral map. The document contains a model referral pathway for SGBV, the services offered at each point, roles of SGBV actors and key contacts in the county.

The referral map shows locations of all SGBV service provision points including health facilities, police stations and courts. It also includes key referral networks such as chiefs and community-based organisations.