In Aftermath of Political Crisis, Kenya’s Gender Problem Clear

Florence Machio

The ugly face of violence reared its head in Kenya after the presidential elections of December, and I now know that crisis was a window into the status of women's rights in Kenya and the gaps in responding to sexual and gender-based violence in this country.

The ugly face of violence reared its head in Kenya after presidential elections in December of last year and as much as there is calm in the country and everything seems back to normal, I can't forget the fact that the violence gave an insight into social injustices in our society.

I have highlighted on Rewire before how Kenyan women bore the brunt of the violence — but now I know that it was a window into the status of women's rights in Kenya and the gaps in responding to sexual and gender based violence in this country and indeed in most African countries.

A recent report released by UNIFEM, UNFPA and CCF indicates that the internally displaced people still face sexual exploitation within the camps as they wait to be repatriated.

Both women and humanitarian actors across multiple sites reported cases in which women and girls are coerced into exchanging sex for basic resources, such as food, sanitary supplies, transport, etc. Perpetrators were identified as men from the encamped population, the community and, in some cases, security personnel. Some reports suggest that sexual exploitation "rings" are being organized by profiteering men from the camps and/or host communities.

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These risks to women and girls are compounded by a general failure to promote inclusion of women in camp decision-making and coordination processes. Equal participation of women as compared to men in internally displaced persons (IDP) camp management committees was not evident in any of the sites visited. Similarly, camp-based services — such as reproductive health services — designed to meet the specific needs of women and girls, including access to antiretroviral drug therapy (ATRs) were almost non-existent the majority of camps. In addition to the lack of health services, women are in need of basic necessities such as underwear, sanitary napkins and contraception.

According to a UNFPA report titled "We want Birth Control Now!" and highlighting the issues of IDPs in Northern Uganda, the reproductive health needs of refugees are usually not considered a priority; yet when disaster occurs, a proportion of women are going to be pregnant while others are in need of maternity services without which they are at risk of dying in child birth.

Dr. Primo Madras, the National RH Emergency Officer, says gender based violence increases in the context of humanitarian crises and there is need for prevention and response: "Access to RH services including STI treatment and contraceptives is poor as a result of disrupted health systems."

The conflict in northern Uganda had lasted for more than 20 years. Almost 2 million people were forced into displacement camps that were characterized by overcrowding and unsanitary conditions and over 30,000 children abducted by the LRA.

While all these look unpleasant, I just want to reflect on lessons learned that if dealt with, we could probably make meaningful headway into sexual and gender based violence.

Lesson 1: While there are laws that punish perpatrators of violence, the justice system is not supported with meaningful and modern ways of gathering evidence thus most cases will end up being dismissed for lack of evidence.

Lesson 2: It is important the every woman or child who is violated gets proper medical attention and follow-up psychosocial support and therefore medical systems need to be strengthened from the rural to urban areas.

Lesson 3: The government needs not only to promote human rights but be at the forefront so that the whole society is enlightened enough to respect women and children.

While the above are not the only lessons to be learned from this crisis, I want to believe that the crisis merely highlighted the gaps within our medical, legal and rights systems and that we need to fill them so that women live in a safe environment even in time of crisis.

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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