COVID 19 and Gender-based violence; A reasonable Cause or a Sorry Justification
When the COVID 19 pandemic broke out, it was soon accompanied by a spike in the number of gender-based violence (GBV) cases. This relationship between the two was attributed to several factors including job losses and the tension that arises when a couple spends too much idle time together. However, the pandemic is well into its second year and more and more women are suffering under the oppressive boot of violent men.
Statistics by OCHA indicate that 23.6 per cent of Kenyans have witnessed or heard cases of domestic violence in their communities since the introduction of COVID-19 containment measures. Further, a 25 per cent increase in GBV cases was reported in September 2020 as compared to data collected in August 2020. Between May and June 2021 statistics by UN Women indicate that 1 in 5 women reported feeling unsafe in their household in the last six months.
There was a first wave of the pandemic that was quickly followed by a second and third wave. Then the waves acquired more scholarly names if you will. We are now leaving behind the delta virus and marching into the gamma wave. We still cannot see a light at the end of this tunnel, meaning the economy will remain in the doldrums for the foreseeable future. Does this mean women will continue suffering for the entirety of the pandemic? I shudder at the thought. One question that should be asked is why women are not choosing violence as an outlet for the frustration that they too are feeling. Women are losing jobs at the same rate as men, after all.
Over the past month, I have received numerous calls and heard countless cases of violence against women. Two incidents, however, stand out. I once received a distress call from a client whose husband had just bitten off her ear. While receiving my COVID jab at the county hospital, the nurse shared the story of a lady whose nose had been bitten by her partner during an altercation. It saddens me to see that this is how we vent when the pressure hits fever pitch. Gone are the days when mediators such as religious figures, parents or even respected elders in the community were called in to arbitrate differences between couples. Nowadays it seems that violence is the first and only answer to settling differences.
The justice system in this country is partially to blame for the rise in cases of GBV. The wheels of justice move rather slowly when it comes to such cases. It can take years for minor cases to be solved, leaving the victims feeling like the perpetrators are mocking them. Justice delayed is justice denied. To add insult to injury, the required GBV response services are rarely centralized. Victims must knock on many different offices before their cases can be heard and resolved. Many usually give up along the way out of frustration. Oftentimes, when asked why the success rate of GBV cases is minimal, actors are quick to blame the victims for not playing their role in the process. But who would depend on a process that by design works against you?
One of the biggest enemies in the fight against GBV is the growing section of womenfolk who have come to accept GBV as part of their daily lives. Part of the reason these women resign themselves to this fate is that they hardly ever see the perpetrators facing justice. Many have even reached the point of not reporting GBV cases as they know that nothing will come of the cases. Still, others have resorted to attributing GBV to machismo, thus unconsciously perpetuating GBV.
While there is need for improvement of service delivery within the justice system and other GBV response service institutions, there is also need for empowerment and sensitization of the community. Women and girls need to be sensitized on their rights. Men and boys, on the other hand, need to be taught not to use their masculinity as a weapon against women. Failure to ensure that there is adequate sensitization within the community is a disservice to Kenyan women. It is not only a government prerogative but a collective effort to ensure that the tide changes. This does not in any way minimize the duty owed by the government to its people to take them through alternative means of dealing with their frustrations. Mental wellness would be a good place to start.