Punish Sexual Violators to End Sexual Violations
There is little progress in reducing and eventually ending sexual violations (assault and harassment) in Kenya because perpetrators of sexual abuse mostly go unreported and unpunished. In 2020, women in Kenya are still grappling with the distasteful challenge of groping, sexual undertones and uninvited comments on their dressing. These evils take place in workplaces and crowded areas, especially irritating and inappropriate touching in bus stations and public transport. There is broadly a worrying level of disregard for consent in our society that needs urgent attention and action!
When is the last time you heard of anyone who was publicly named and shamed for spanking a stranger in Nairobi’s downtown? Have you ever reported a case of unwanted and inappropriate sexual undertones by a colleague or boss at work? Does your workplace have an instituted sexual harassment policy that is well known to all staff members and one that is strictly adhered to by management? Sexual violations and gender-based violence are rooted in gender and power inequalities that require reconstruction of patriarchal tendencies and beliefs that have, for so many years, disproportionately affected women as compared to men.
Informed by these concerns, in November 2020 Dadapower conducted a survey to examine the rate at which cases of sexual harassment are reported. Although we included a signing option for non-conforming genders, the survey only received responses from female and male respondents, creating a gap in capturing the experiences of other diverse constituents.
Globally, one in every three women has experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. Our survey at Dadapower recorded 115 responses in Kenya: 3 out of 40 (7.5%) of the male respondents and 48 out of 75 (64%) female respondents reported to have experienced a form of sexual harassment. It is important to note that from the responses recorded one can say there is a gap in understanding the various forms of sexual harassment, leaving a majority of victims out of documented cases of violations.
Notably, the difference between the number of victims of sexual harassment and those that have reported any case is wanting, raising the question, is the biggest challenge to dealing with sexual and gender-based violence in protection of perpetrators of sexual violation by victims who are either afraid of reporting the cases or feel following the legal process is not worthwhile as perpetrators are not punished? Forty-seven per cent (47%) of the 115 respondents are aware of where to report cases of sexual harassment, but only 15.7% have reported at least one case.
Respondents mentioned workplaces, bus stations, rural areas and slums as areas where sexual harassment is most prevalent. According to a survey by Flone Initiative, 76% of female transport operators (drivers and conductors) in Nairobi have either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment but, 25% of those cases go unreported because victims and witnesses feel that perpetrators will not be held accountable. That these numbers of cases go unreported and unaddressed shows the extent to which violators go scot-free.
There is hope in ending sexual violations in Kenya, especially when championed by duty bearers. In April and May 2020, Dadapower Initiative alongside over 20 youth-serving organizations took part in the #JusticeForEveryChildKE campaign convened by the ‘100 million campaign.’ It was aimed at protecting Kenya’s most vulnerable children and young people from the devastating impacts of COVID-19. In an open letter to the President of Kenya, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, we called on the Government through the Ministry of Public Service and Gender Affairs to speed up the creation of a rapid response mechanism through prompt operationalization of the newly established toll-free hotlines and mobile applications to enable anonymous reporting of all incidences of gender-based violence (GBV) and abuse of Children’s Rights.
We also urged the Government’s declaration of protection structures and services for victims of gender-based violence as essential, and prioritization of referral of survivors to support services during the pandemic including access to fully manned, resourced, and functioning gender desks in all police stations. Additionally, that the Government urgently address the pressing need for functioning safe houses for survivors by expanding the capacity and resourcing of current safe houses and establishing new ones in all the counties. Such houses could be furnished with resource centres that encompass libraries, digital and technical training spaces, sports fields as well as recreational centres to impart to the survivors the intellect, skills, and right state of mental and physical health for recovery. We applauded the Makueni County Government for establishing a safe house for victims and survivors of GBV, which could be a blueprint on how to best roll out this program.
In July 2020, H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta shared his concerns on the increasing cases of GBV and teenage pregnancies during the pandemic, calling on citizen responsibility to end the vice. In addition, he directed the National Crime Research Centre to probe the escalating cases of GBV, the disempowerment of girls and violation of children rights during the pandemic, and to prepare an advisory to the security agents on remedial action and initiate immediate prosecution of all violators.
Reporting cases of sexual harassment would be most effective if proximity to enforcement agencies or authorities is convenient for victims of sexual harassments. To start with, as recommended by Flone Initiative to public transport operators, all public transport service providers and Saccos should develop and institute sexual harassment policies and customer service charters that are well known by the public, and are adhered to by transport operators and consumers. Additionally, employers should be encouraged to sensitize their employees on forms of sexual harassment and where to report such cases if experienced at the workplace. By doing this, the burden of employees having to worry about their safety is lifted from them. Most importantly, organizations should institute sexual harassment and safeguarding policies that all employees are conversant with through adequate orientation, and are signatories to. This way, all employees at workplaces are held to account in the event of any sexual violations.
Elimination of all forms of sexual harassment is a collective responsibility for us as a society, not only because both women and men experience it, but also because the effects of sexual harassment are demeaning, irreversible and violating. The public should be the number one champions for zero tolerance to sexual harassment through stigmatization of sexual violation and de-stigmatization of victims of sexual abuse. This calls for concerted efforts by actors in facilitating continuous sensitization of the public on the various forms of sexual harassment and where to report cases. In addition, the police have to be approached as key actors in ensuring that perpetrators face the law. This can only be achieved through sensitization of management teams and enforcement agencies on effective handling of sexual harassment cases to ensure that issues of sexual harassment are addressed with the seriousness they deserve.
Stella Nderitu is the Chairperson of Dadapower Initiative.(www.dadapower.org)