Kenya: Gender-based violence survivors lack help



Kenya: Gender-based violence survivors lack help

The government must put in place a strong rights-based framework to anticipate how future emergencies will affect women and girls

NAIROBI, Kenya, September 22, 2021 / APO Group / –

The Kenyan government’s response to gender-based violence during the Covid-19 pandemic has been too limited, too late, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 61-page report, “‘I had nowhere to go’: Violence against women and girls during the Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya”, documents the failure of the Kenyan government to provide services to prevent the gender-based violence and providing assistance to survivors as part of its response to Covid-19, the measures have facilitated an increase in sexual and other violence against women and girls. Survivors have suffered increased harm as a result of the failure of the Kenyan authorities to ensure that they have access to comprehensive, quality and timely medical treatment; mental health care and protection services; financial aid; and to properly investigate and prosecute cases.

“The pandemic is not the first time that Kenya has seen an increase in violence against women and girls during crises,” said Agnes Odhiambo, senior researcher on women’s rights and head of the Nairobi office at Human Rights Watch. “The government should have anticipated such an increase, but tragically as in the past, it turned a blind eye and failed to protect women and girls from violence.

Human rights gender-based violence, a Kenyan expert on gender-based violence, and officials from POLICARE, the Police Program to Respond to Gender-Based Violence, and the State Department for Gender Affairs. Human Rights Watch also reviewed reports from government, non-government groups, the United Nations, and the media.

Kenya, like many other countries around the world, has seen an increase in reported cases of physical and sexual violence, including domestic violence, against women and girls during mobility restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. Even before the pandemic, high levels of violence against women and girls, impunity, and lack of accountability and services for survivors were lingering issues in Kenya.

Survivors and other interviewees described sexual abuse, beatings, being kicked out of the home, forced child marriages and female genital mutilation. Women and girls living in poverty or in precarious economic conditions – conditions often created or exacerbated by the pandemic – were particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse. Many of the perpetrators were close family members, including husbands.

“I was forced to stay at home when I was faced with violence because I had nowhere to go,” said Amelia A., a domestic violence survivor in Kisumu County.

Most of the survivors interviewed did not report the abuse to authorities because they did not think they would receive help or believed they should pay bribes for help and n did not have the capacity to pay. Those who reported the abuse received inadequate responses from law enforcement and insufficient access to health and legal services, and faced many problems in obtaining help, including an almost complete lack of access to healthcare. financial support needed to escape abuse.

Government programs that provided emergency financial support during the Covid-19 crisis, such as an expanded cash transfer program, were not heavily focused on gender-based violence and had little impact on survivors . Human Rights Watch found that due to corruption and lack of transparency, those who needed it most had not received the life-saving Covid-19 cash assistance promised by the government.

Survivors also said that accessing Kenya’s already very limited supply of shelters or shelters was made more difficult by the violent enforcement of curfews and closures. The few existing shelters were understaffed and could accommodate even fewer people because pandemic rules did not consider shelter staff as essential workers.

At least six people have died from police violence in the first 10 days of Kenya’s dusk-to-dawn curfew. The Kenyan authorities also forcibly quarantined thousands of people in facilities that put their safety and health at risk. Fear of police brutality and forced quarantine prevented survivors from seeking help, Human Rights Watch said. Organizations working with survivors reported that many women felt they had no choice but to stay home with their abusers, rather than seek help and face the overbearing police. or other security officials who enforce the curfew.

Survivors said it was difficult to get emergency medical services during the pandemic. In some cases, survivors and guardians in cases involving children have been forced to pay for services at public health facilities, where these services should be free. Some were referred by public health officials to private clinics where costs are higher and could not afford to pay. Respondents received either very limited mental health support from government institutions or none at all.

Police corruption, lack of police capacity to conduct investigations, and police interference and mismanagement have severely reduced the ability of survivors to seek justice. In some cases, police have asked survivors to investigate and deal with evidence related to their abuse, for example by producing witnesses. Police failed to coordinate effectively with survivors and help them prosecute perpetrators, often leading survivors to abandon their efforts.

In three cases that led to prosecution, prosecutors failed to adequately inform and support survivors and their guardians so that they could participate effectively in the court process, excluding them from virtual court hearings.

Over the past fifteen years, the Kenyan government has enacted several laws to address gender-based violence. It has also established guidelines for the police, specialist medical personnel and justice officials to respond to such violence. In May, President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged millions of dollars to combat the upsurge in violence during the pandemic. But the Covid-19 pandemic has tested those reform efforts, and the government’s response has been short.

“The Kenyan government urgently needs to honor its commitments to protect women and girls from violence, including free medical and mental health services, alternative housing and justice,” said Odhiambo. “The government needs to put in place a strong rights-based framework to anticipate how future emergencies will affect women and girls. “

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