Source: Nation 

The government neglected her girls and women during the pandemic, exposing them to different forms of gender-based violence (GBV) – a new report shows. The I Had Nowhere to Go report released on Tuesday by the Human Rights Watch shows that Covid-19 exacerbated violence cases.

The report touts child marriage, abandonment without support, female genital mutilation, sexual abuse, and physical abuse as the most common forms of violence.

The rights body blamed the government for not considering women and girls’ rights when they imposed the lockdown.

Agnes Odhiambo, a women’s rights researcher and Head of the Nairobi office Human Rights Watch, said the government's first failure was leaving out SGBV voices at the National Emergency Response Committee at the onset of the pandemic.

Social isolation

“There was blind planning and when people were preparing for Covid-19 and even giving relief to vulnerable populations, victims of the gender-based violence were forgotten,” she said in a press briefing at a Nairobi hotel.

Ms Odhiambo said that due to increased social isolation, women faced the highest burden of solitude because they are the homemakers and had to take the burden of being with family at home.

“When lockdowns were imposed, there was a lot of insecurity and the fear of police brutality made women persevere in abusive environments,” she said.

“To the women who dared go out past curfew hours, some were sexually harassed,” she added.

By the time the government realised the seriousness of GBV amid the pandemic, the cases had already soared.

Head of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence division at the Office of Public Prosecutions Jackline Njagi, alluded to the alarming increase of cases reported to her desk, observing that the government’s hotline number was the busiest last year as more people called to seek help.

Sexual abuse

“We are trying to leverage technology so that we can save as many girls from the claws of GBV,” she said.

Media reports last year showed that there was an increase in teenage pregnancy – an indication of sexual abuse as a form of GBV.

The increased cases caught President Uhuru Kenyatta’s attention and on July 6, last year, he asked stakeholders to look into the matter and address it.

Beverline Ongaro, who works at the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the consequences of GBV extend to other broad range of rights including education, and sometimes right to life.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done to end GBV. Children are experiencing violence in the confines of their homes and that affects them. Some grow up knowing that violence is the solution to a squabble,” she said.

“The government should prioritise the protection of GBV survivors and those who take care of them have to be trained on the best practices,” Ms Ongaro added.

Gladys Koskei, a GBV activist based in Narok said frustrations from victims due to stigma is a script she knows by rote.

“I have been championing women and girls’ rights for 19 years now, and sometimes my efforts go down the drain because the people we report collude with the perpetrators and nothing is done afterwards,” she said.

Boda boda riders

“In Narok County for instance, boda bodas are the weak link. They ferry students to school and take advantage of them, especially when they know that they lack essential items like sanitary towels,” she lamented.

Even so, Ms Koskei advised parents to ensure they constantly educate their children and the government to arrest boda boda riders who take advantage of school girls.

The report also noted that there is a lot of stigma from victims and sometimes they prefer not to speak out. Others are silenced by the perpetrators.

“Families have to be educated that GBV is a crime,” said Ms Odhiambo. “GBV is an issue of power and it is unfortunate that most people who commit it have the say.”

Agnes said that the government also needs to scale up on the number of rescue centres and shelters. She said, at the moment, most shelter are kept in secret so that supporters of different forms of GBV such as Female Genital Mutilation may not come for the people who have been rescued.

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