A prominent human rights group has accused Kenya’s government of failing to adopt preventive measures to protect women and girls during pandemic lockdowns and curfews. Human Rights Watch says the government failed to ensure access to health, economic, and social support services, adding to an increase in sexual and other forms of abuse against women and girls.
In a 61-page report entitled “I had nowhere to go,” Human Rights Watch documented how the government failed victims of gender-based violence as the government introduced lockdowns, issued restrictions of the movement of people to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Agnes Odhiambo is human rights researcher on Women’s Issues. Speaking Tuesday at a press conference in Nairobi, she said the pandemic has increased violence against women, as they were confined to their homes.
“Women were at increased risk of violence because of increased social isolation spending a lot of time in the home, in the house being stuck with someone who is abusing you. Many women did also not get information on how they could get help during lockdowns,” Odhiambo said. “The breakdown of community structures for support and networks in communities also means that many women did not have somewhere to go and get help.”
Human rights watch investigators spoke to 13 survivors, community workers, experts and officials working with the police program meant to combat violence against women.
Victims told the rights group they were sexually abused, faced beatings and were thrown out of their homes. Young girls were forced to marry at a younger age and to undergo female genital mutilation.
The investigators found that most survivors did not report the abuse to the authorities because they believed they would not receive assistance.
Others believed they would have to bribe authorities to get assistance and could not pay.
Beverline Ongaro works at the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. She told journalists they would work with Kenyan authorities to ensure survivors get protection and justice.
“It provides us with an insight on the barriers survivors face and what needs to be done by duty barriers from survivors perspective and ultimately for the government to comply with its human rights obligations as under treaties and under Kenyan law particularly the constitution,” said Ongaro. “Allow me to reiterate that when we tolerate GBV [gender-based violence], it violates the human rights of the survivors and also their humanity.”
Kenya’s government has passed a number of laws in response to gender-based violence. It also has established guidelines for responding to such violence by police, specialized medical personnel, and justice officials.
But perpetrators of these abuses often find a way to around the rules, using money and connections.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the government to build a solid rights-based framework to protect and give justice to women and girls in the future.