Between November and December, women’s rights groups across the world embarked on a 16-day campaign of global activism aimed at ending gender violence. At IDEWES we held forums on gender based violence (GBV) during the campaign. In our dealings with human rights abuses at the NGO, we consistently find high rates of domestic violence against women.
Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa, is a physical expression of urban and gender inequality. Across Africa, high population growth and a lack of secure rural employment push low-income groups towards informal settlements which are characterized by inadequate infrastructure and services. Low incomes, unemployment, job instability and exclusion from decision-making processes condemn residents to a precarious life.
Women, in particular, are vulnerable. Violence against them is endemic in Nairobi’s slums, goes widely unpunished and significantly contributes to making and keeping women poor. Yet for all the problems, the chances for a better life remain in places like Kibera.
Recently a girl, 19, came to the IDEWES office to meet our paralegals. She sat timidly and didn’t speak English. She had been beaten by her husband and, suffering from spinal injuries, was unable to walk. Her husband had not helped; instead he told her to go back “up-country”. The girl, an orphan, didn’t have an immediate family to go home to.
Staff at IDEWES helped the girl to a local hospital and offered psycho-social support. She was, however, unwilling to report the case to the police.
There are several barriers to reporting such incidents. They might be cultural; based on distrust of a male-dominated police force and their attitude to GBV, or the socially-ascribed roles of males and female which allows husbands to dominate wives in the domestic arena. It might also be a question of capacity within, and across, sectors vital to the reporting of cases of sexual-based violence. Women often don’t believe that female victims of violence can get justice in such a weak legal system, and risk reprisal from perpetrators if cases are dismissed.
A third reason I’d propose is economic. There is a considerable problem for women who are economically dependant when faced with domestic violence. In Kenya, men can be jailed for years if found guilty of violent abuse. In this case, the girl would have been stranded.
This issue reinforces our commitment to improving women’s economic empowerment in Kibera. IDEWES has established over 50 group, saving & loan groups designed to encourage women to come together to save money and borrow to improve/start businesses. Our micro lending program is aimed at scaling-up the capacity to improve income generating activities.