Violence against women and girls in Kenya, as it is in other parts of the world, is a result of profound social systems that maintain, advance and proliferate it. Patriarchy, and the entire negative socialization process of men that leads to negative masculinity remain ever present due to traditions and culture. These cultural expressions in Kenya have made the bodies of women and girls the battlefields of the nation’s men.
We are a nation that condones violence against women demonstrating our link between male supremacy and culture. We are a nation that is swiftly turning to organized criminal gangs like the Mungiki, Zungu Zungu and the Baghdad boys to enforce economic and political interests despite the fact that they raped and maimed thousands of women during the 2007 post election violence. And now when an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into crimes against humanity committed by various Kenyan leaders through their orchestration of criminal gangs and state security agents is underway, the political elite, obviously to protect their interests as they were behind the violence, is demonizing it.
Brutal expressions of masculinity are widespread. In 2010, a Future Concern report revealed that violence against women affects one in three women in Kenya. This is a staggering statistic. A currentWorld Bank report affirms that women between the ages of 15 and 44 in Kenya are at a greater risk of experiencing rape or violence than having cancer, and malaria, and dieing in a war or car accidents. Experts continue to caution that the militarism present in Kenyan society has a direct correlation with violence against women and men who do not conform to its negative masculinity connotations.
While many argue that there is need to bring together women, peace, and human rights movements to challenge militarism in Kenya, I believe that the movement will not succeed without including men and boys. Men and boys are the custodians of the social and cultural structures that allow violence and discrimination to continue. While key instruments that guarantee the safety and security of women including the new constitution exist in Kenya, levels of violence against women continue to rise as does the influence and prevalence of the military, hence confirming the need to target men and boys as key stakeholders in eliminating violence against women and girls.
Sexual violence is widespread in conflict zones in Kenya, for example the cattle rustling prone areas of Turkana, Kuria, Baringo, Mandera and Wajir. Gang brawls in informal settlements in urban centers are becoming bloodier each day and the targeting of women and children is a worrying trend. Abduction, carjacking and kidnappings are on the increase with the recent police report confirming that more than ten kidnappings take place each week and that women and children are the most targeted. Violence against women in Kenya is also as a result of the availability of small arms thanks to its proximity to war ravaged Somalia, Northern Uganda, and Southern Sudan (now independent).
In a nutshell this is happening because the masculine construction as it is in Kenya equates manhood with the ability to exert power over others, especially through the use of force. Masculinity, as it is espoused, gives manpower to control the lives of those around him, especially women and girls, and the most manly way to exert control and demonstrate superiority and male prowess is through sexual violence. As a result sexual violence remains the main hurdle to women’s security as its effects are physically, psychologically, and socially detrimental.
The need to work with men and boys as key partners in the fight against gender based violence and other human rights issues at the local and national levels is greater now than ever before. New mechanisms aimed at enhancing collaboration and the exchange of analyses, tools, techniques and strategies to combat violence against women and the ever-present militaristic inclinations must be developed and employed.
To the men of Kenya it’s time to demonstrate solidarity with women and girls around the country and in deed the world as a whole. As men, its time we redefine gender-based violence as a women’s issue, it is not, it is a human rights issue, and human rights violations concern all of us!
Wanjala Wafula Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. He is also a writer who thoroughly enjoys writing on gender issues.