OPINION: Say no to victim blaming and shaming of GBV survivors

OPINION: Say no to victim blaming and shaming of GBV survivors

By Alvin Mwangi

Women and girls continue to face life-threatening situations in their daily social, educational, economical and personal lives from acts of violence with the perpetrator known to them most of the time.

According to Amnesty Kenya, 108 Kenyan women were killed in 2019, while 40% of women in Kenya have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.

A survey by the Kenya Demographic and Health survey (KDHS) found that 14% of women and 6% of men aged 15 – 49 reported having experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.

The Government of Kenya has enacted several laws and has policies and regulations to prevent and control forms of violence against women and children such as the Bill of Rights and the Sexual Offenses Act (2006). The Constitution of Kenya, in Article 27 Part 1 states that every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya has witnessed an increase in gender based violence (GBV) cases reported by men, women and children. According to the Ministry of Health, between mid-March and June 2020, over 5000 rape cases were reported. 70% of victims were girls aged 18 and below. 5% were boys and men. 95% of the perpetrators were men. The numbers were a 7% increase from cases reported during the same period in 2019.

Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they were not careful enough or walking at night with their dresses and skirts. Women get raped because someone raped them.

Rape culture is a social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified. It is fueled by the persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality. Rape apologists ask questions like ‘Where is the proof?’; ‘What were you wearing?’; ‘Why were you drinking too much?’; or ‘Why didn’t you call the police then?’

They also make statements like ‘That doesn’t count as assault’; ‘He is not normally like that’; ‘Move on, that happened a long time ago’; ‘You should not have gone to that party’; ‘You are over reacting’ among others.

Society must the culture of victim blaming and shaming women and girls who experience GBV. Women should not live in survival mode everyday, fearing that someone will touch them inappropriately, harass, attack or even kill them.

This is not a feminist agenda. It is a human rights agenda. Women are dying in the hands of men and it is absolutely disgusting to reduce survivors of GBV to laughter sessions on TV or radio platforms. In recent times, we have witnessed how some sections of the media have played a key role in vilifying GBV survivors. We have heard presenters and reporters use their platforms to blame victims of violence, shame them and ask questions like “where was she going at night, why was she was drunk, don’t you think she wanted it, why was she wearing a miniskirt, who told her to go there” yet women should live free from violence of any nature.

These incidents beg the question: Why are we blaming women? Aren’t we supposed to ensure that systems are able to protect everyone irrespective of gender? Shouldn’t we be striving to ensure that cultural and religious beliefs do not discriminate anyone? Families and community systems have encouraged girls and women to live in fear. They make statements like ‘You know you’re a girl, you are not supposed to go out at night’ or ‘You’re not supposed to wear something short.

The notion that girls and women must learn or be told to be safe needs to end. Despite the grim statistics and cultural impediments, we have an opportunity to make a difference for the better and everyone of us has a role to play. Discussions need to focus on arrest and prosecution of perpetrators; implementation of laws that act as a deterrent; safe houses for GBV survivors; how to help survivors deal with post-traumatic stress, stigma and discrimination.

Media houses need to develop and implement policies around sexual and gender based violence issues. This will ensure that reporting remains objective and does not violate anyone’s enjoyment of human rights. No corporate entities should be associated with media stations that perpetuate femicide or any form of sexual violence.

Say no to victim blaming and shaming of women. Say no to femicide. Say no to sexual and gender based violence. Say no to rape. Say no to defilement! Say no to cat calling! Stop the hate. Stop the discrimination. Stop misogyny.

Alvin Mwangi Irungu is Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Youth Advocate in Nairobi, Kenya. Twitter: alvinmwangi254