Groups push for awareness in violence against women

Monday, November 30th, 2020 00:00 |
Dr Lydia Mwaniki, Director for Gender, Women and Youth Department presents her book to Father Evangelos Thiani during the launch of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in Nairobi. Photo/PD/Harriet James

Harriet James @harriet86jim

Faith-based organisations have condemned gender-based violence (GBV) and called for awareness to end growing violence against women.

Calls come following statistics that violence against women have been on the rise especially during Covid-19 pandemic. 

Speaking last week at the launch of 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence at an event held at Desmond Tutu Conference Centre in Westlands, Nairobi, the groups vowed to also act and place measures that ensure safety particularly during this pandemic. 

 “It is with this understanding that we are here today to amplify our voices and join the rest of the world in reaffirming our commitment to lend our voices as faith leaders to support advocacy and promote actions that protect women and girls. 

As a faith community, we recognise that the 16 Days of Activism campaign affirms the need for all sectors of society to play their part in the fight against GBV,”  said Rev Dr Fidon Mwombeki, the General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, (AACC).

Said he: “We acknowledge the invaluable work that has been done and is being done by our governments and those outside government to combat gender-based violence. We would like to urge everyone to scale up these efforts to protect women and girls.” 

A Kenya National Bureau of Statistics study earlier this year revealed that 23.6 per cent of Kenyans have either seen or heard domestic violence cases in their communities since the government set in place the Covid-19 containment measures. 

As vital as these measures were, they have had a particular impact on women and girls, including elevating the risk of GBV. 

As of September this year, the national GBV Hotline received 1,195 calls and reported 810 cases. This  is  a rise of 25 per cent since August when there were  646  reported cases.  

Research conducted  in April by the Ministry of Health and Population Council on Covid-19 Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices and Needs depicted that 39 per cent of women as well as 32 per cent of men were experiencing tensions in their homes.  

Moreover, 650,000 women and girls living in urban informal settlements require access to basic household supplies as well as dignity kits necessary in minimising GBV risks.  

The report further indicates that at least 2,350 women and girls across the country need shelters and safe houses for protection from GBV and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and about 440,000 girls in counties with high prevalence of FGM require social protection and psychosocial support, including dignity kits. 

Restrictions are also making it harder for survivors to report abuse, seek assistance as well as enable service providers to respond efficiently. Pastors and priests have been known to be tight-lipped over the issue, with some viewing it as a sensitive topic for the public while others have been accused of being perpetrators of the vice with cases of pastors and Catholic priests defiling minors on the rise. 

Clerical abuse

For instance, in the Catholic Church, clerical abuse is of great concern to the rapidly growing number of congregants who have increased by 19.4 per cent, according to the African Catholic Population Statistics 2015. Survivors too are stigmatised when they attend services. 

In addition, some religious leaders support harmful cultures such as FGM and early child marriage, which are potentially shaped by the patriarchal culture.

 It is such actions that make the donor community not see religious leaders and actors as partners because of their belief in religious and cultural ideologies that indirectly contribute to violence against women and child abuse

“It is important that the church be educated on abuse issues as this creates a safer environment for women and children.

Religious institutions should come up with gender and child policies and proper communication channels should be in place to voice out abuse when in occurs,” says Catharina Venter-Kotze, Faith and Development advisor, World Vision, Southern African regional office.

She added: “There should be screening  of those handling children and all Sunday school or Madrassa teachers should sign a code of conduct that they should strictly adhere to.”

Faith actors lack spaces to influentially interrogate these retrogressive cultures, for instance, lack of consensus among religious actors on Sexual Reproductive Health issues affecting women and girls like the use of contraceptives and sex education. 

“There has been failure in prioritising GBV issues and responses with seriousness. Most have selective reading and application of scriptures to subordinate women to men.

There is need to contextualise theology to address GBV issues and speak out  issues of rape as it is shrouded in the culture of silence.

There is need to use liberating scriptures that serve as scriptural basis for gender justice,” notes Dr Lydia Mwaniki, Director for Gender, Women and Youth Department AACC.

The World Council of Churches and All Africa Conference of churches came together to promote the “Out of the Shadows” campaign through the “Churches commitments to children programme” to support local churches and regional partners in safeguarding children and adolescents from sexual violence. 

Index was developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and measures how 60 countries address child sexual abuse and exploitation. 

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