Gender based violence: Calls for stiffer penalties

Written By: Margaret Kalekye/Kamche Medza
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Kenya's National GBV hotline 1195 showed cases have increased by 775% since COVID-19 pandemic struck the country.

Gender-Based Violence cases in the country have significantly increased with statistics indicating 834 cases were recorded by the third week of June 2020 compared to 86 cases in February before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

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UN Women Country Director Anne Mutavati says the global health crisis continues to expose women and girls to much greater risks that need urgent intervention.

Mutavati says Kenya’s National GBV hotline 1195 showed cases have increased by 775% since COVID-19 pandemic struck the country.

The shocking statistics were revealed during the handover of COVID-19 food and non-food donations to the parliamentary women caucus leaders for distribution to vulnerable groups.

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The women Caucus leaders have vowed not to support the proposed merger of groups supporting women such as Women Enterprise Fund, Uwezo Fund and National Gender and Equality Commission.

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Over 71,000 vulnerable groups have benefited from over 6.1 billion shillings donated in the aftermath of the  COVID-19 pandemic.

The gender impact survey is expected to be out by the end of July to inform policy and budget decisions as efforts to eradicate the vice gear up.

Public Service and Gender Affairs Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia called for tougher penalties for perpetrators.

On Monday President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the formation of a direct national crime research centre to prove cases of GBV, teenage pregnancies and violation of children’ rights.

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The impacts of the COVID-19 on women and girls include rising rates of domestic or intimate partner violence, while lockdowns and social distancing may be particularly hard on survivors of gender-based violence, who may already be economically dependent on their abusers.

According to the United Nations, the trend has been blamed on financial hardship due to restriction of movement and curfew affects livelihoods, especially for those working in the informal sector.

Heightened levels of stress

Confinement at home under heightened levels of stress, uncertainty and fear, can produce stressful environments that precipitate violence.

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that for many women and girls, the COVID-19 threat looms largest where they should be safest – their own homes.  “We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19,” he said.  However “they can trap women with abusive partners.”

He urged all Governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans.

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