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Violence Against Women- Timet To stop it

GENDER VIOLENCE- TIME TO STOP IT!

When walking alone
In the darkness
Identifying myself with
The silent serene, mood of the night

I feel an electric current
Passing through my limbs
When the car swerves past and the lorry rushes on
Roaring…

Oh, the dark night
Frightens me not
But the sight of a man
Makes me shrink

Manjula C.G
´But the sight of man makes me shrink.’ What Manjula acutely captures in her poem is violence against women, violence against women perpetrated by men. This poem was published in 1998 in a magazine called Manushi, an Indian magazine that brings to the limelight the plight of Indian women that get battered by their men. The agenda called ‘Women…’ has been on the platform frequently over the years. All over the world ‘Women’ have been raising their voices, in the past, and even louder today they go on and on. In the blend of their voices resonates the quest ending violence against women.

In the family, at the work place, in learning institutions and in government the Woman has struggled to put up with the effects of violence against her. Violence against women should not and cannot be narrowed down to mere physical violence. Any form of action done against a woman of sound mind against her will and against the rights of humanity is no doubt categorized as violence.

Over the years, women have fought violence against women, at times alone and isolated in their homes, at other times with other women. All over the world they have experienced firsthand violence of all dimensions. The multi-faceted nature of violence against women in Kenya and other parts of the world constitute: domestic violence, sexual violence, economic hardship, and killing of girl babies at birth, female genital mutilation, giving of dowry, polygyny, barbaric funeral rituals, academic and political limitations imposed on women and honor killing.

The litany is limitless; the above are listed due to their frequency and conspicuous nature.

Domestic violence
Domestic violence commonly referred to as wife beating is a wide spread practice in the malestream. This is largely attributed to what John Stuart Mill identified in men as - the generality of the male sex cannot get to tolerate the idea of living with an equal.

Sexual violence
This kind of violence is one of the worst women can go through in their lifetime. It takes the form of rape and sexual harassment. Rape has evolved to a murderous design of gang rape and marital rape most of which is accompanied by torturing of the victim to secure a prosecution-free future and security of the perpetrator. Myths that go along with rape tend to put women on the losing and disadvantaged side. These fallacies are such as women enjoy being raped, women can always avoid being raped and it is always the fault of the woman that she was raped.

Sexual violence against women has raised concern in various countries just as it has done in Kenya. In South Africa, movements such as Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence against Women have been founded to deal with rape cases. In 1997 it was reported that three women get raped every second in South Africa. This saw the mushrooming of Anti-rape organizations that could offer a gleam of hope for rape victims. People Opposed to women Abuse (POWA), Port Alfreds Women’s Organization (PAWO) and the National Network against Violence against Women are a clear indication that the levels of sexual violence had called for national attention. Joanne Fedler, the chair of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Center to End Violence Against Women said in the Sunday Times 10th August , ’organizations working with survivors of rape and battery comment that the viciousness and cruelty of assaults become more acute.

No longer are the women raped and left to become outspoken survivors as in the old good days. Now they are tortured before they are set alight. No longer are our rapists over the age of consent. Boys going through the first throes of puberty rape three-year-old children then strangle them. Our rapists and barterers have realized that if you snuff your victim there is no one to testify against you.’

If you thought that rape is an import to Kenya then you need to be in the light to see it the Kenyan setting. Topicalizing sex is a taboo in most African societies like Kenya. The women society has come out strong against sexual abuse against women in Kenya despite this. The frequency and the intensely harmful nature of rape prompted Fatma Abbeyed to form the Anti-Rape Organization in Kenya in 1990.

Fatma Abbeyed Anyanzwa is a 47 year- old woman who has fought gallantly for women’s rights. In a periodical called Inuka, Fatma is highlighted as speaking against rape and sexual harassment against women. She observed that society treats the sex topic as a taboo. In police stations, victims of rape who got to report its occurrence are ridiculed and humiliated by police officers, causing others to shrink away from reporting the crime. Fatma goes ahead to say, ‘the law is faulty because it does not treat rape as an assault against a person but as an offensive act against morality.’

According to a report by Inuka, rape is a big problem in Kenya although no researched. In 1991, 70 school girls were raped by their fellow students in a rampage that left 19 girls dead. 15 other girls were rape in another school by gangsters who invaded it in 1990. Fatma having dealt with over 700 cases of rape can testify that rape is equal to death.
I have taken a discourse analysis of newspaper articles, namely The Standard. These news reports have reflections of the actual events and not mere representative notions of the account. The articles have addressed the frequency of the cases while making sense of their severity and inhuman nature.

The publishing of these news reports reveal that our journalists have taken action towards fighting gender violence. In a news report in The Standard February 10th 2010, there is widespread sexual abuse of girls in schools for children with disabilities. The report goes ahead to say that reports of the cases fell on deaf ears. The Kenya National Association of the Deaf has received numerous reports that have been documented. Many other cases are unreported due to breakdown of communication. This has seen the naming of seven teachers as suspects in one institution in South Nyanza. Prosecutions have not been carried out anyway.

In the year 2009 alone, 40 students were abused by their teachers, these were the only reported cases. It is estimated that unreported cases outnumber the reported ones by far. In January 2007, 76 teachers were accused, 123 cases reported and 47 teachers were under investigation. By February 2010 the Teachers Service Commission found that 85% of the accused persons were guilty of the offense. The Child Rights Advisory Documentation and Legal Center (CRADLE) released a report in 2004 that 79% of girls between ages 15-17 have experienced sexual violence or abuse. Frequent occurrence of sexual violence against girls and women can be said to have stemmed from ‘seeds of social and cultural ill-health that are sown quite early in life’ (Odhiambo, Standard 13 Dec 2009).

The rampant cases prompted the Kenyan legislature to take action toward curbing continuity of this crime by punishing perpetrators. This was addressed in the Sexual Offences Act of 2006. This Act provides for definition, prevention and protection of all persons from unlawful sexual acts. It addresses issues of rape, sexual assault, induced indecent acts, defilement, gang rape, child prostitution, incest, sexual harassment and cultural and religious sexual offenses.
Marginalization of women

Discrimination and violence against women is a reality that has characterized the Kenyan society in both public and private spheres. It seems that the culture of trivializing and mischaracterizing gendered crimes is embedded in our national psyche despite strides made in other fields. Culture and religion are used as excuses to relegate women’s concerns as matters not requiring national attention. Personal law is an area which is still legal to discriminate against women. Ignorance by women themselves of their legal rights remains a major concern.

The repercussion of this is that even now, none of the measures currently in place address violations that were committed against women. (Perspectives on Gender Discourse, 2004) Marginalizing of women takes the shape various cultural and religious practices most of which are physically violent or violate the rights of the woman. Our society is one in which masculinity norms are hegemonic, full of authoritarianism and control. It is a misogynist culture that justifies violence against women. I am not saying anything against patriarchy, it just that our men seem to have weird notion of women.

Napoleon Bonaparte imposed the Napoleon code that stated, ‘Nature intended women to be our slaves. They are our property, we are not theirs. They belong to us, just as a tree that bears fruit belongs to the gardener. What a mad idea to demand equality for women! Women are nothing but machines for producing children’ this code Napoleon spread from Europe to other colonial possessions during the 19th century. With these kinds of regimes, women have fought ever since antiquity to free their half of the population from oppression by the other half. (showvalter 1971). Women have since been denied the opportunity to advance academically and consequently economically.

In France for instance, girls were denied schooling after the age of eight. During the French revolution women fought against this program, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote a book ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ in response to these ills. In Kenya we have cultural practices that directly intercept in the education of girls and women. Female genital mutilation is a major contributing factor to the rate of girl drop out. This is because once a girl is circumcised irrespective of her age and education level; she is given away for marriage.

The marriage benefits her family in the form of dowry. FGM not only undermines the girl’s social status but her health as well; she is at the risk of contracting HIV or even bleeding to death or other t associated infections of the wound may kill her. Female genital mutilation is not just a Kenyan problem, in West Africa, the Association of African Women for Research and Development (AAWORD) based in Senegal has concerns over FGM. They firmly condemn FGM and intend to undertake research on the effects of FGM.

The results of this research can be used as the basis of an information and education campaign and to help bring about legislation against all aspects of this problem. They say that to fight FGM without placing it in the context of ignorance, obscurantism, exploitation and poverty without questioning the structures and social relations which perpetuate it is like refusing to the sun in the middle of the day.

On the other hand, marginalization of women goes hand in hand with the cultures of polygyny commonly known as polygamy. In the polygamous setting, women and their co wives generate a lot of jealousy, suspicion, unhealthy competition and general friction among themselves. It is an evident result of the divide and rule tactic employed by the husband. In this kind of an environment where culture allows men to have as many wives as they can contend to, the rates of HIV infections go up as well.

HIV and poverty are usually in equal proportions. Whether it is the man or the woman who dies first, the subject that bears the burden and feels the intensity of the pinch are the women and children, since most are financially dependent. The death of a husband usually marks the beginning of a painful journey for the woman. Kenyan society in most cases requires the woman to perform barbaric funeral rituals. This may include spending the night with the corpse, inheritance by an imposed male relative and losing all the family wealth.

In addition, the articulation of culture tied to ethnicity is intimately connected in this discourse with notions of gender. Notions of the female gender that they are mere property that can be acquired or gotten rid off if their value depreciates are grounded in practices such as dowry and honor killing. Honor killing is often a specific form of murder common in traditional societies. (Feldner 2004).

The perpetrators of the honor killing are usually the male relatives, they describe this act of violence as based on the conception of family honor and as related to the chastity code, the honor of her collective family becomes severely damaged and the only way to restore it is to eliminate the woman. Honor motivated male violence is not only restricted to this Islamic practice, many of our ethnic groups banish women from society, christening them as outcasts because of pregnancies outside marriage or suspected infidelity to their spouses.

All these ills precipitate the perceived valuelessness of a woman. It is therefore not a surprise that we had a culture of killing girl babies at birth.
All the above ills render women economically handicapped which is the outstanding consequence of gender discrimination and violence. Karl Marx saw that the property owning classes (men) are dominant and the non owning classes (women) as subordinate and oppressed. Marxist- feminists take as their question the relation of women to the economic system. They explain women’s subordination to men in terms of their position in relations of production. Women are involved in the reproducing of labor force. Contrarily radical feminists see the subordination of women as emphasis of men’s power over women rather than the capitalist domination.

The Kenyan government has tried to empower women economically by establishing the Women’s Enterprise Fund. This is a move toward addressing poverty alienation among women by socio-economic empowerment. The fund’s mandate is to provide money for lending to women entrepreneurs directly or through financial intermediary partners.
Therefore I agree with recommendation given by the 2004 Perspectives on Gender Discourse that: It is evident that a situation of human rights deficit and a policy environment where marginalization, exclusion and injustice particularly in reference to major concerns such as the most vulnerable of the genders have suffered and continue to suffer the most. A new constitutional dispensation may accommodate greater women’s rights. I am glad that I have the opportunity contribute to the making of the International Violence Against Women Act which will go along way in protecting women’s rights.

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