HRW criticizes Kenya’s reaction to a spike in gender-based violence.
Human Rights Watch has condemned Kenya’s government’s reaction to an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) during the coronavirus epidemic, particularly during times of lockdown.
The US-based rights organization said in a new study published on Tuesday that the government failed to guarantee that women have access to health, economic, and social support services despite limitations on their movement.
According to HRW, the Kenyan government encouraged a rise in GBV by doing so. According to the study, there was a 301 per cent rise in calls reporting violence against women and girls during the first two weeks of the lockdown, which took place between March and April 2020.
While past research has indicated that GBV cases rise during health emergencies, HRW believes the Kenyan government should have “anticipated and prepared for a similar spike during the COVID-19 health emergency.”
Other research on sexual assault and GBV has also shown that Kenya’s existing government institutions and policies are “inadequate to react effectively to violence against women and girls” during such crises, according to the report.
The study is based on 26 interviews done between June 2020 and February 2021, 13 of which were conducted with GBV survivors.
The organization recorded different kinds of violence against women and girls, such as sexual assault, beatings, being thrown out of the family, being forced to marry, and being forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).
According to the study, the majority of the assaults occurred “at home,” and the perpetrators were “close family members, including spouses, while some abuses occurred in the neighbourhoods and were perpetrated by neighbours.”
The interviewees reported continuous sexual harassment from males in their communities, some of whom “lured” women with food or sanitary pads.
Juliet, a 16-year-old girl living in a Nairobi informal community, was kept hostage for four days by a man who sexually abused her, according to HRW. She was ultimately rescued by neighbours and cared for in a Nairobi safe house.
Despite Kenya’s already high levels of violence, HRW reports a “clear pattern” of increasing violence against women and girls.
Kenyan police and other state security personnel have been “key perpetrators” of severe human rights abuses, including “rape and other sexual assault against women and children, as well as men and boys, especially during times of crisis,” according to the organization.
While relatively few have been prosecuted, HRW’s findings show that police officers routinely seek bribes to perform fundamental tasks of their employment.
According to HRW’s findings, despite the establishment of gender desks at police stations, officers have “stigmatized” GBV survivors and lack sufficient training to deal with such cases, hindering victims from seeking justice.
HRW urged the Kenyan government in its report to “prevent, confront, and redress” violence against women and girls, particularly during times of crisis.