As the country approaches the March 4, 2013 General Election, there is real concern about the safety of women and girls. This is because gender-based violence has become a defining feature of Kenya’s General Elections. Since 1992, cases of sexual violence characterize every election, the difference being only on the magnitude.
What is disturbing is that this violence is happening at time when many international instruments and national laws to address sexual violence against women exist. Every year, women continue to organise and advocate for concrete and lasting solutions to eliminate sexual and gender based violence as well as domestication of international frameworks.
They also engage in numerous studies to understand this violence. Through this, the direct relationship between insecurity, sexual violence as well as HIV and Aids vulnerability has been shown to exist. Gender inequalities, power dynamics between men and women and the control of economic resources, are other causes or linkages to this violence.
In Kenya, there is limited data available on the total number and extent of sexual and gender based violence during conflicts such as the post-election violence. The total number of victims remains unknown. In most cases they go unreported, because of shame, embarrassment, stigma and a lack of awareness on the law among other things.
Stories such as; “Not only are we raped, infected with HIV and ripped of our livelihoods, we remain with limited platform for sharing such experiences” are too common.
This data if captured can bring out the many underlying reason why this violence thrives. However, studies done on this subject show that violence and crime thrives in society that manifest wide gaps in income, wealth and access to important services such as education, health and infrastructure.
There are two views that relate to violence and crime, when viewed in the context of poverty and inequality. Firstly, there is the view that violence and crime is triggered by wide differences in income, employment and political power.
People who have little share of these important factors in life use force and breach the law because of their inability to acquire them through the normal process of legitimate work and democratic participation.
This is the group that is also very active during election time. On the other hand, the inequality that exists between men and women tends to fuel violence within households which are linked to economic empowerment. In this case, majority of the victims are women.
This year’s theme of 16 days of gender activisms against gender violence: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women was very appropriate to Kenya. There are concerns that what is being experienced now as we move towards elections might exacerbate gender based violence in the country. As we get deeper in the electioneering process and the post-election period, there is need for the Government and other stakeholders to find persuasive ways of mitigating this gender based violence.
We need to ensure that zero-tolerance for sexual violence and rapes are embraced as a key element to peace and security. All stakeholders need to bring to live the African Union Gender Equality Declaration and Protocol on Women’s Rights in Africa Declaration as well as the Security Council Resolution 1325.
It is against this background that the Peace Initiative Kenya project which is being implemented by International Rescue Committee (IRC) and other six partner aims to create grassroots networks that have the capacity to prevent and mitigate violence, including gender based violence in Kenya’s conflict prone zones during the pre- and post-election periods.
Under the theme: My vote, My choice for violence free society, this initiative will link gender based violence and elections in Kenya as well as use an action-oriented strategy to rapidly create a more protective and peaceful environment in the run-up to the March 2013 elections.
This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Issue 33