May 21, 2024
Kenya’s strides toward eradicating violence against women and girls in elections
– By Godswill Odiong

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One sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) case was reported to the police during Kenya’s election period, according to the country’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA). While this is not the only indicator of a violence-free election – the efforts of state institutions, international development partners and the civil society movement have made important steps to end violence against women during elections.

“We were not going to let it happen again in this year’s election,” says Jael Abukutsa, a survivor and human rights defender (HRD), referring to the electoral violence that regularly plagues the country’s elections. “We were more united to prevent and respond to gender-based violence cases before, during and after elections.”

Since 2007, Kenya’s elections have seen a significant rise in violence, particularly levels of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls. “I was sexually abused in 2007. It broke me, but it also cemented my will to fight for human rights,” says Jael, 52 and a mother of three.

With support from the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (Aics), UN Women Kenya and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have been implementing a programme focusing on prevention, mitigation and response to violence against women during elections (VAWE). One of the main objectives of the “Let it Not Happen Again” project has been to enhance access to justice for SGBV survivors in four counties of Nairobi, Kisumu, Bungoma and Vihiga – locations identified as SGBV hotspots.

UN Women and OHCHR have been working with duty bearers, since 2019, to strengthen capacities of various institutions; working with rights holders to enhance their capacity and participation in VAWE prevention and response; and strengthening coordination and collaboration between duty bearers and rights holders at the county and sub-county levels.

“The trainings offered were a game changer because all stakeholders were brought together, including police. This was key, because no one was being left behind, and we got to share experiences on how to handle matters that come to us, and more important to find solutions to our daily challenges,” says Purity Kosgey, a Principal Magistrate and Head of Station at Tamu law court-in Muhoroni, Kisumu county. “We hold Court Users Committee (CUC) meetings every quarter, where we take note of challenges, and how to collaboratively address them.”

Jael now says that human rights defenders have better working relationships with the police, judiciary, investigators and health professionals. “Not all police are bad! We call on each other for help and support,” she confirms.

While one election related SGBV case has been reported and investigated, many went unreported. For example, Jemima Komu, who was running for Member of County Assembly in Kaptama Ward, Mt Elgon, Bungoma county, was targeted because she was a woman running against 11 men. “I was threatened, my electronic shop was burnt. The cyber bullying was so much, my family was harassed. The worst was on the eve of elections day, when attackers came to my house. Luckily, I was not sleeping in my house. The worst thing is the people harassing me are the people I know. I lost the election by only 214 votes!”

According to Corporal Catherine Nekesa, a police officer who sits on the gender desk at Mbale police post, “We did not receive any cases related to elections here, but we were ready, and we will continue to work with our partners to prevent and respond SGBV cases in Vihiga.”

As Kenya was preparing for the 2022 election, the project focused on working with key stakeholders from various sectors, to comprehensively prevent and respond to any cases.

Christine Okeno, UN Women Kenya Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) Analyst explains that, “For us it was important to enhance women’s and girls’ participation in critical prevention processes to ensure access to quality, multi-sectoral services essential for their safety, protection and recovery from violence. To prevent, we needed all stakeholders to be adequately prepared and ready.”

Elections come and go, you and I remain

Through the multi-sectoral approach involving all stakeholders to promote women’s and girl’s rights, the Government of Ireland joined forces to strengthen peace structures, ensuring that women play a leading role in peace building processes prior to, and during the electoral process.

Rosemary Cheptai, 52, and mother of six is the chairperson of her district peace committee in Mt Elgon. She has been working with other actors including chiefs, police and HRDs to spread messages of peace. “I have experienced violence; my neighbours have lost sons and daughters due to election violence. Now as a peace facilitator, I lead peace dialogues with my community and neighbours, because we are tired of losing our children to violence. We are tired of being violated. We must remind our people what we have gone through, so that we don’t go back to that.”

“We are so glad we had a peaceful election. For the 2027 elections we must start preparing early, especially strengthening relations with our local communities,” says Jael.

The Let it Not Happen Again Project is supported by the Government of Italy in partnership with UN Women and UN Human Rights (OHCHR) since 2019. This project approaches prevention and response challenges to election-related violence on multiple levels: through mapping of GBV hotspots, contingency planning, and coordination mechanisms. It has worked to strengthen grassroots organizations, such as HRDs, to support survivors’ access SGBV services while strengthening state mechanisms, such as law enforcement and the legal system. The Government of Ireland joined forces in 2021 through the project “Amplifying Women’s Voices in the Prevention of Violence Against Women in Elections in Bungoma and Vihiga Counties” to strengthen peace structures, ensuring that women play a leading role in peace building processes prior to, during, and after the electoral process.

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