Combat Gender-Based Violence
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that as many as one in three women experience physical and sexual violence across their lifetimes, amounting to roughly 736 million worldwide. COVID-19 has increased those numbers. The pandemic has been a gruesome lens of sorts, revealing the weaknesses in many emergency-response and social service systems worldwide. One particular view into the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic has highlighted the disturbing rate at which women experience gender-based violence, often in their own homes. The need to combat gender-based violence has become inherent during the pandemic because it has forced many victims into lockdown with abusers.

To make things worse, vital victim support programs, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, have had to close or limit operations. Therefore, fear exists that the pandemic may erase the progress that countries previously made on addressing social norms that harmed women and girls.

Gender-Based Violence and Poverty

Gender-based violence disproportionately affects impoverished women and girls, furthering negative socioeconomic outcomes for generations. Unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and medical complications all negatively impact the future-income potential of already financially strained women and girls. The unprecedented breakdown in social-response programs and victims’ services highlights the need for the transformative power of education to combat gender-based violence. Nations, nonprofits and other international organizations need to utilize education tools to combat gender-based violence to fight the ‘shadow’ pandemic.

The Education Transformation: Knowledge = Personal Power

Nonprofits worldwide tout education at-risk individuals as a way to reduce and more accurately report instances of violence in all communities. A focus on providing educational tools can help combat gender-based violence by offering a long-term way to identify and eliminate biases in the identification, reporting and prosecution of abusers.

Educating health professionals and law enforcement also plays a role in reducing gender-based violence; advanced, continuing education leads to increased compassion and empathy that is essential in properly addressing the needs of victims after trauma. Furthermore, educating authorities and communities on what constitutes gender-based violence may also limit the stigma associated with reporting it.

A recent UNESCO study found that Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) was lacking in parts of the world with high rates of gender-based violence. The issue is a double-edged sword, as gender-based violence both causes and is a product of a lack of education. UNESCO’s Senior Programme Specialist in Health Education, Joanna Herat, concluded that a lack of quality education was contributing to the ‘shadow’ pandemic. Many countries, Herat says, poorly addressed sexual abuse, exploitation and rape. The trends are changing, Herat continues, and UNESCO will continue to support countries embracing quality CSE.

Social Services Superstars: International Initiatives to Combat Gender-Based Violence

The United Nations Security General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women (UNiTe) calls for international awareness and advocacy to end gender-based violence and address the pandemic factors leading to a rise in domestic violence. As of July 2020, the Interagency Statement on violence against women and girls in the context of COVID-19 highlighted six critical areas for action:

  1. Make urgent and flexible funding available for women’s rights organizations and recognize their role as first responders.
  2. Support health and social services to operate and remain accessible, especially to those most likely to end up behind.
  3. Ensure that people regard services for violence against women and girl survivors as essential.
  4. Place a high priority on police and justice responses.
  5. Put preventative measures in place.
  6. Collect data to improve services/programs and help meet ethical and safety standards.

Several other organizations have attempted to use educational tools to combat gender-based violence. Here are a few.

McCann Worldgroup’s “The Shadow Pandemic PSA”

This one-minute-long public service announcement, narrated by Kate Winslet, highlights the upsurge in domestic violence during COVID-19. The UN Women Unstereotype Alliance developed the project to highlight homes in over 14 countries and raise awareness. “It’s a proud moment when the power of advertising is used not just to build awareness of a critical issue but also to empower people to do something about it,” says Michael Roth, CEO of Interpublic Group.

The World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) Partnership

The Development Marketplace launched this program to address gender-based violence. The organization awards international teams up to $100,000. Winners use the money to fund evidence-based research, interventions and other activities related to gender-based violence prevention. To date, the program has given $5,000,000 to teams.

– Katrina Hall
Photo: Flickr

Ending Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Despite the Second Congo War officially ending in 2003, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains a nexus of civil unrest. The country’s decades-long cycle of armed conflict has fuelled impunity, lawlessness, brutality and an epidemic of sexual violence against Congolese women. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 48 women in the DRC are raped every hour. In a 2013 nationwide survey of 18,000 households, more than 57 percent of women reported experiencing physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Personal Testimonies

These numbers are alarming, especially when paired with personal testimonies of trauma. One young woman, Sandra, recounts being infected with HIV after her neighbor raped her at the age of 16. Jeanne, another survivor, was tied to a tree and gang-raped for several weeks. She had surgery to repair the damage, then returned home only to be raped again.

Their experiences are not unusual within the country’s current climate. Sexual violence against Congolese women is, in the words of activist Eve Ensler, “the cheapest and most effective way to instill fear in and humiliate a community. It doesn’t even cost a bullet.”

The Fight Against Sexual Violence

Individuals like Ensler are working to combat this systemic violation. Ensler is the founder of City of Joy, a leadership program for survivors of rape. Geared towards survivors that have healed physically, City of Joy supports 90 women aged 18 to 30 at a time, giving them an interim place to emotionally heal, gain valuable life skills and build a community of empowerment among themselves. Since opening its doors in 2011, City of Joy has served and celebrated more than one thousand women survivors in the DRC.

For those in need of physical treatment, pioneering gynecologist Denis Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital. The hospital specializes in complex gynecological injuries, with 60 percent of its collective 85,000 patients coming from a background of sexual violence. In addition to repairing physical trauma, Panzi Hospital offers counseling, reintegration and the accruement of legal evidence in the hope that, one day, the evidence can be presented to secure justice for its victims.

Organizations Stepping in to Help

There are many other beacons that exist to empower, mend and prevent further sexual violence against Congolese women. The World Bank recently committed $100 million to The Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Project. The project’s intent is to promote social parity while directly aiding 400,000 women and girls over the next four years. In 2017, United Nations agencies provided medical assistance to approximately 5,200 survivors of sexual violence and referred hundreds more to MONUSCO-supported legal clinics. Hope and Health Vision strives to provide a safe environment for women and children traumatized by civil conflict. Women for Women International offers a year-long training program for women, as well as engagement programmes for male allies.

Something is slowly being dug to the root, reaffixed. Mukwege says, “Africa’s future begins when girls know that they are equal to boys. We share the same humanity and we cannot continue to allow economic wars to be fought on women’s bodies.”

Yumi Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Top 10 facts about Human Rights in Kenya
The World Bank, in its latest report on Kenya, credited the country with possessing the potential to become one of Africa’s success stories.  From its growing youthful population and dynamic private sector to its highly skilled workforce, improved infrastructure and new Constitution, Kenya plays a pivotal role in East Africa. However, Kenya continues to struggle with the protection of the basic human rights of its people. The top 10 facts about human rights in Kenya below shed light on the inequalities faced by the Kenyan people and the organizations working to improve conditions.

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Kenya

  1. From 2007 to 2008, Kenya received international attention and criticism for severe violation of human rights after the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. While the political party in power challenged the independence of the judiciary, and the police manhandled opposition protestors, the NGOs Coordination Board threatened to close down human rights organizations. Administrative and legal measures were adopted to curb the activities of civil society, media and human rights organizations.
  2. Human Rights Watch confirmed that the post-election human rights violations included sexual and gender-based violence against men, women and children in Kenya by the police and security forces.
  3. In 2010, in an attempt to address the past human rights abuses and injustices, Kenya adopted a new Constitution alongside a Commission to implement it.
  4. The Human Rights Watch, in its 2016 report, criticized the country’s inaction. The criticism was aimed at Kenya’s ineffective implementation of the new Constitution and lack of addressing the post-election human rights violations of 2007 and 2008.  These violations left at least 1,200 people dead and 650,000 people displaced.
  5. Amnesty International questioned the government’s legislative curtailment of basic rights of the people, media and refugee communities. As a response to the persistent terrorist attacks and killings orchestrated by Somalia-based Islamist group Al-Shabaab, the Kenyan government increased the power of the police and security agencies. This, in turn, led to extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, raids on communities, harassment and extortion of money.
  6. The Amnesty International Annual Report for 2017/18 lauded the “landmark judicial decisions on human rights” by the Kenya High Court stopping the government’s decision to close the Dadaab refugee camp. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp, and the decision prevented the return of 250,000 refugees to Somalia, where they would have been at risk of abuse.
  7. Outside the scope of political turmoil, there are also issues of the rights of women and children in the country. In 2016, the National Gender and Equality Commission released a report titled Gender-Based Violence in Kenya. According to its study, 39 percent of women and girls aged 15 years and above have encountered physical violence, and more than one-fifth of the women have been victims of sexual abuse. Domestic abuse has also been noted as a common problem in Kenya. Acts like the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (2011), Employment Act (2007), the Protection Against Domestic Violence (2015) and the National Policy on the Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence (2014), have been introduced to promote social justice and preserve the rights of women in the country.
  8. Kenya’s Vision 2030’s Medium-Term Plan II (for 2013 to 2017) outlined the establishment of gender-based violence recovery centers in all health care facilities in Kenya. The National Gender and Equality Commission has also developed a National Monitoring and Evaluation Framework to prevent such violence. Organizations like Childline Kenya in partnership with the government have been trying to stop the high instances of child abuse prevalent in the country. The National Policy on the Elimination of Child Labor and the Kenyan police’s Child Protection Unit have been introduced to prosecute and investigate child exploitation.
  9. Clashes between different ethnicities in Kenya, which initially began in 1991, have also emerged as one of the human rights issues in the country. Certain ethnic communities, like the Sengwer, have been in conflict with the government. This year, the European Union suspended it’s Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme due to the killing of a person by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The EU stated that the rights of indigenous people must be respected and balanced with the conservation work on water towers.
  10. The Kenya Human Rights Commission has been striving to foster human rights and democracy at all levels in Kenya. To add to that, The Kenya National Commission of Human Rights acts in an advisory role and as a watchdog to promote a culture of human rights in Kenya.

In July 2018, members of The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, following their visit to Kenya, appreciated the new Constitution’s efforts to improve human rights conditions and democratic institutions. In addition, the group underscored the need for delivering the promises of the constitution in order to secure human rights protection. Kenya is set to become the first country in Africa to develop a National Action Plan based on business and human rights. While these top 10 facts about human rights in Kenya demonstrate many areas in need of improvement, the Kenyan government has begun to take steps in a promising direction.

Jayendrina Singha Ray

Photo: Flickr