domestic violence in Kenya
It is ingrained in children that the only way to solve an argument with your spouse is shouting or spoiling for a fight. [ Photo / Nairobinews ]

Conflict in relationships can not be avoided. Two people process and react to life totally differently. This is channeled to a combination of triggers, thought partners, and emotional responses. This often leads to disagreements. Conflict, however, should not lead to any physical or sexual harm.  

When you hear about Gender-based Violence (GBV), you think of women. Violence against women has long been recognized as a global epidemic, and the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly escalated threats to women’s safety, security, and access to justice.

The devastating ripple effects of the virus such as overburdened health systems, the global economic downturn, school closures, and national lockdowns have created a “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence (GBV).

Under lockdown and other physical distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus, women around the world have been confined to their homes, many out of reach of service providers, and some trapped in quarantine with their abusers. In addition, rising stress levels, strains on economic resources, and isolation from support networks further contribute to the increased risks of GBV during the pandemic.

A woman being harassed

A report by International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), UN Women, and others states that the pandemic exacerbates threats to women’s access to justice and cites curtailed access to justice institutions, rising intimate partner violence, growing injustice for women workers and discriminatory laws, combined with pre-existing gender inequalities, as some of the major risks to women’s lives and livelihoods associated with COVID-19.

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According to the Kenyan government data, 45% of women and girls aged between 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and 14% have experienced sexual violence. Many of these cases are not reported to authorities and few women get justice or receive medical care.  

A few months ago, Juliet M, a 16-year-old, was held captive by a man and sexually assaulted. She was later rescued by neighbors and is now being cared for in a safe house.

The man involved said he kidnapped her because he needed the female company to get through the government imposed COVID-19 lockdown.

We all can protect the right to freedom from violence by acting as one. The  international community should  take note of the surge in violence against women and children and support the mobilization of resources.

The onus is also on governments to strengthen protection mechanisms, and on citizens to take action to reduce gender based violence in their communities.

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