Eliminating sexual and gender-based violence: Moving beyond rhetoric to solid actions
By Julian Muturia, ACORD Kenya
This morning, I sat on my computer to write an article to celebrate 16 Days of Activism 2014. I was trying very hard to think of a convincing reason to celebrate. Have we made strides worth celebrating in achieving the rights of women and eliminating sexual and gender-based violence?
A little voice in me whispers a faint “Yes”. Can’t you see the great laws and policies we have? Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who has not received the great news that Kenya has one of the most celebrated constitutions in the world and is usually amongst the first countries to ratify and accede to all the international human rights instruments? Well, still not convinced that I had a reason enough to celebrate, I chose to commemorate this solemn days in our calendar when we are reminded of how far we have come and how far we still have to go in ending sexual and gender-based violence. The obstacles along the way are so enormous that we have to soldier on.
My thoughts are disrupted by my ringing mobile phone. My first impulse is to ignore it to avoid losing my trail of thought. It is, however, Mama Jasmine, an old friend from my days of judicial attachment at the Traffic Court in Nairobi.
Mama Jasmine: “Hi…This is Carol. Do you still have my number?”
Me: “Yes, Mama Jasmine. How are you and your family?”
After exchanging pleasantries, she began the heart-wrenching story of why she called and how she thought I could offer my legal two cents opinion to her friend.
Mama Jasmine goes ahead to narrate the sad story of her friend whose daughter, barely six years, was defiled by her live-in boyfriend in August 2014. She had travelled up-country for a funeral. The boyfriend sent the maid to the shop and brutally defiled this child and fled living the poor angel for the dead. The maid and neighbours rushed the girl to the hospital for treatment and later to the police to record a statement. Fast forward to November 25, 2014. The perpetrator, who is allegedly related to a senior police officer, is out on bail, actually less than one week after arrest. The matter has been mentioned only once in court. The little girl’s mother lost her job trying to manage her psychological trauma, being there for her daughter and attending counseling. The same unfortunate woman sold her only earthly possession, a piece of land, to pay the services of a lawyer and other incidentals to a tune of Kshs 2,000,000 (my little legal knowledge tells me a complainant does not need a lawyer in a criminal case as the State sues on their behalf).
This is the brief that I am supposed to unravel and ensure justice is served for the little angel and her mother. I am now seeking the help of all of people of good will to assist me wave the magic wand.
My initial thoughts are:
Do I begin by sewing the worn out social fabric of the lover-turned-hyena that preyed on the little angel?
Do I address the impunity and corruption of the senior police officer who is protecting the perpetrator without thinking about the little girl who, next time round, could be his daughter, grandchild or one day even married to his son?
Do I storm into the learned magistrate’s office and ask the hard questions of why the matter has not moved an inch since August despite all the beautiful laws and criminal procedures in place?
Do I write a letter to the Advocates Complaints Board reporting the rogue advocate who shamelessly stole from such a vulnerable woman?
Do I quickly gather funds to create awareness on our rights and legal procedures to avoid such incidents in the future?
Do I quickly draft a demand letter seeking explanation for the wrongful dismissal of this woman?
As I wait for your response on how to tackle this elephant called sexual and gender-based violence, I will share my opinion:
Sexual and gender-based violence is a grave and unique crime. Unlike most of the other offences, it infringes on the most fundamental rights of a human being, be it their right to health, human dignity, freedom from torture or the right to privacy. The fact that it has continued to be perpetrated against women and children infringes on their right to equality and marginalizes them further. In most cases, this heinous crime denies them equal opportunity to thrive in social, political and economic spaces and leaves behind deep physical, psychological and economic wounds that our selective amnesia cannot heal.
Sexual and gender-based violence needs to be warranted the seriousness it deserves by all legal and moral duty bearers. We have to deliberately move from the rhetoric of legislating laws and policies to implementing the same, from stigmatizing survivors to accepting them and eliminating our cultures and believes that perpetrate violence. Who said culture is static? If our forefathers rose from their graves, they would be astonished at what we now call “the culture and traditions of our fore fathers”. If drastic and concerted action against eliminating sexual and gender-based violence is not taken, who knows? This “shunned survivor” could tomorrow be your daughter, mother, sister or wife!
In conclusion, allow me to reiterate the words of Justice Albie Sachs of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. “Constitionalism is the way society does things. It is the culture within the society, how it does or does not do things. Yes, we need the written document, we need the institutions but: we also need the culture! It is the people that make laws work and not the other way round.”