Ganging Up Against Gender Violence!

On October 11th, civil societies and governments joined hands to commemorate the annual International Day of the Girl. The theme for #IDG2014 was "empowering adolescent girls: ending the cycle of violence." The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women first described "gender violence" in 1993 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 in public or private life." Young women and girls face multiple forms of gender-based violence on a daily basis including rape, honor killings, female circumcision, early marriage, prostitution and trafficking and domestic violence.

Recently in India, two young girls were raped, hanged and left to die, while they were looking for a place to relieve themselves. It is unfortunate that most times, gender violence has a female face attached to it. Governments should come up with a comprehensive way of addressing these injustices and assure women of security just as the male gender. In addition, root causes of these types of aggression such as lack of access to proper sanitation, must be concretely solved so that women do not always fall prey.

Early in the year, the Guardian published an article on "Women's Rights Country by Country" that focused on key areas such as domestic violence, constitution, harassment, property, abortion and others. It was appalling to see that out of the 36 countries that were sampled in Sub-Saharan Africa, 18 of them did not have laws specifically addressing domestic violence, and it is difficult to point out that Kenya is one of them. It is absurd that women's issues are not given the attention and urgency that it deserves even at the legislative and government level. Even more unfortunate is that women legislators in most of these countries do not draft laws to protect women. For instance, Kenya has special seats (women representatives) created specifically for their representation in parliament, but almost two years later, they have done little to create laws that specifically target women. For a country to thrive economically, politically and socially, we have to make sure that everyone has an equal chance of exploiting their full potential, and that is not possible if women continue to be seen as the recessive gender.

Young girls are always denied the opportunity to enjoy their childhood as a result of certain traditions that have deep roots in our communities. Every year about three million African girls suffer female genital mutilation (FGM) around the globe. As much as this practice is looked at as a right of passage in different communities, it is barbaric and has no place in today's society. Even though it is not easy to get rid of these practices, a source of livelihood for some people, we have to solve these problems from the bottom up if we are to achieve sustainable change in issues affecting women and girls. Governments must provide incentives for these women who carry out this practice so that they can have a source of livelihood and join the campaign against FGM. It is also prudent to involve community leaders who have always had the belief that it is sinful to marry a girl that has not been circumcised and educate them to understand why FGM practice goes against their human rights. No girl should be subjected to unnecessary pain and discrimination over outdated traditional practices. Eradicating FGM is not a one day thing or a one conference solution; it needs strategic, thoughtful and concrete solutions that involve all the stakeholders in the girls' lives including communities, men, governments and businesses.

On the positive side, we have people who have dedicated their lives to eradicate outdated practices such as FGM and early girl child marriage, and one of these people is Josephine Kulea, the founder of Samburu Girls Foundation in Kenya. Through her foundation, Josephine has been working hard to rescue young girls from undergoing FGM and early marriage in her community. After rescuing the girls, she makes sure that they have a safe home, their health issues are attended to, and that the girls are later taken back to school.

Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences once said, "Development is a process of expanding freedoms equally for all people," meaning it is vital for all genders to have active participation for sustainable development to be achieved. We need a holistic approach to eradicating violence among women and girls and make sure that the culprits are brought to justice. Governments need to make sure that they have strong policies that address gender violence both at the community and the national level. Transparency in how cases are handled will generate courage among more girls and more cases will be brought to light. We should involve men and stop looking at women issues as exclusively feminine. For each and every country to achieve its maximum potential, every person must have representation at the table.