GENDER BASED VIOLENCE – It is not just about women and girls.
Every year on the 8th of March, the world celebrates the International Women’s Day (IWD). This date was established in the early 20th century by the global women’s movement for women to press for their demands to combat oppression and inequality.
Decades later, we still live in a world where deplorable forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV) are still a norm and do not just happen behind closed doors. GBV is not only a violation of the human rights of the individuals affected but also helps sustain the status quo and the hierarchy of gender identities.
In 1992, the UN General Assembly adopted General recommendation 19 requiring member states to report on this specific topic, however according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “evidence on the best way to address gender violence is recognised as insufficient”.
The question remains, why are we incapable of ending GBV?
Mercy (second name withheld) ran away from home with a man who constantly showered her with gifts at the age of 16. Efforts by her family to ensure she stayed in school by enrolment into a boarding school failed as Mercy preferred city life in Nairobi to her family’s rural life.
However, this fairytale lifestyle soon came to an end when Mercy found out her partner was cheating. She made the decision to leave him. Shortly after this Mercy found out she was pregnant. Deciding she could not make it on her own, Mercy chose to return to her partner. From here on, the cheating escalated into violence and physical abuse after she had her baby.
Mercy always made the choice to stay with her abusive partner even when the beatings got worse because she believed it was her duty as a woman and a mother to save the relationship no matter how abusive.
Unfortunately, life took a turn for the worse when a future employment opportunity with an organization that demanded HIV testing for future employees presented itself. Mercy tested positive. Her cheating and abusive partner had infected her with HIV.
What is GBV and where do we stand?
GBV is one of the most common and persistent violations of Human Rights. The UN defines violence against women as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’.
One third of women and girls globally are physically, sexually or emotionally abused during their lifetime with Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) being the most common form of GBV.
IPV or domestic violence is an all-too-common form of violence against women and girls. It refers to any behavior from a current or previous partner that causes harm – including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse, and controlling behavior.
The 2019 Violence Against Children (VAC) Kenyan Survey highlights the progress that has been made since the first 2010 VAC Survey was carried out. These include a reduction in childhood physical violence for both girls and boys and a reduction in childhood sexual violence for females. There is a decrease in emotional violence perpetrated by parents, caregivers, and adult relatives.
The report, however, highlights concerning trends that show an increase in certain forms of physical and sexual violence among adolescent girls aged 13-17 in the past year.
As a society we have identified more with physical violence. We ignore sexual violence and fail to acknowledge psychological violation until an individual suffers from an extreme case of depression or commits suicide. Although often such incidents are kept private, these types of violence should no longer be treated as private issues as they affect each one of us, including children.
Who is affected by GBV?
Whenever the term GBV is mentioned, what often comes to mind are women, girls and or feminism. GBV has been reduced to the “battle of the sexes” with gender being “women and girls”. And herein lies the challenge; defining gender as “women and girls” provides men with the excuse not to get involved.
The Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW – Kenya) reported that in 2022 it received over 3,762 cases of GBV. Out of which 2,985 were by women while 777 cases were by men. Why then are boys and men still barely involved in eliminating GBV?
It is no secret that abuse thrives on silence and it is sad that the perpetrators of GBV are the very people who should be in the front line fighting against it. GBV is deeply embedded in our societies. It manifests itself in the one place that should be the safest place, the home. Often mothers choose to stay in abusive marriages simply because they want to maintain the status quo! As was Mercy’s case.
From a young age, women have been made to believe they are responsible for preventing men’s behavior; “cover yourself up, don’t walk alone after especially after dark”, ‘advice that leads to victim blaming/shaming.
The social perception that a woman’s life has a suffering package attached to it is appalling. Society has subconsciously made women believe they have to take on the burden of abuse by putting the responsibility of men’s behavior on women. A woman who does not desire to be called a failure stays in an abusive relationship or marriage praying for the abuse ends which often never does.
Unfortunately, unknowingly the same woman is passing on a negative message to her daughters and sons. And so, the cycle continues, daughters who think it is ‘normal’ to stay in abusive relationships and marriages, while sons mature into abusive husbands and partners.
In my line of work, meeting different people has taught me that apart from the visible differences and expectations from females and males growing up boys and girls have been given different pieces of advice regarding how they ought to behave and carry themselves in the presence of others.
Girls have always been taught to be submissive as put by a survivor; “as a young girl, I was told I should always sit properly because girls and grown women do not sit indecently. I was told I should learn how to cook properly so that in future I can cook for my husband”. The story however is different for boys, they have been raised with a sense of entitled respect.
Where are the boys and men?
These ideas and notions that society has on gender, have created gender roles which have morphed into inequalities between men and women in various spaces in the society which fuel GBV. They included but are not limited to instances where men have higher salaries than their female counterparts for performing the same job. Or when a woman gets a job promotion, colleagues are most likely to jump to the conclusion that she’ slept’ her way to the top.
In schools and especially in universities and colleges, some people still think female students compared to male ones are not smart enough and the only way they can get good grades is by having sexual relationships with tutors and lecturers.
On the other hand, there is a general feeling that the boy child has been neglected by the community and that all the attention has been diverted to create growth opportunities for girls and women.
While it is mostly women and girls who fall victim to and are survivors of GBV, efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls call for meaningful engagement with boys and men. It is important to them in identifying the social, cultural structures and norms that govern the society, devalue women and expose them to violations of their human rights.
While the construction of masculinity and violence is interlinked as men are most likely the perpetrators, GBV affects and is everyone’s concern, men women, boys and girls.
According to DJ Kyos, “When we fight each other, we will defeat each other. When we fight Gender Based Violence, we will defeat Gender Based Violence. Most men fight women, and most women fight men thinking they are fighting Gender Based Violence when that is not the case. We will only be able to defeat Gender Based Violence when men and women choose to fight the common enemy (GBV) instead of fighting each other.”
Risper Sarota is a Clinical Officer, Volunteer at Positive Young Women Voices. Risper is also a SRHR/SGBV Advocate.