Acting Against Gender Violence: Kenyatta University GBV Conference 2012 Lessons

Milicent Agutu

The First International Gender Based Violence Conference took place at the Kenyatta University on the 1st to 3rd August 2012. The theme of the conference was “Creating safe spaces: A multi disciplinary approach to gender based violence. The conference was enriched by a confluence of policy makers, practitioners and academics who provided different perspectives on GBV.

Gender Based Violence as defined by UNESCO (1999) entails “acts likely to result into physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including such acts as coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life (UNESCO 1999 p.53)”. Violence significantly hinders the ability of individuals to fully participate in, and contribute to their communities – economically, politically, and socially. It is a human rights violation or abuse; public health challenge; and a barrier to civil, social and economic participation. GBV is also associated to limited access to education, adverse health outcomes, lost households productivity, reduced income and increased costs.

The main organizers of the conference were  AMWIK, Wangu Kanja Foundation, COVAW, CREAW, Menken, The Coexist Initiative, supported by United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, USAID, APHIA Kamili, APHIA PLUS, APHIA PLUS –Bonde, TROCAIRE Working for a Just World, Population Council, SWEDEN, Norad, Elion John AIDS Foundation, LVCT among the others. Kenyatta University the main organizer hosted the conference.

GBV was explored in the context of family, community and state. At the level of the family an examination was made on how the traditional gender roles, societal constructs and culture do promote GBV. At the state level it was felt that combating GBV both nationally and internationally needs to go in tandem with the need to alter the existing paradigms. The conference called for a recognition that GBV undermines not only the safety, and human rights of the millions of individuals who experience it, but also the public health, economic stability, the security of nations.



1. From the conference presentations it was clear that  GBV is enhanced by traditional structures that reinforce and sanction gender inequality. These structures may be socio-cultural, political, economic and legal and they vary from family to family, community to community and state to state. In many cases GBV was trivialized by the traditional society and people who are culprits of GBV never felt that it was an offense. It was hence considered normal and macho to mete violence against women by “beating the hell out of them.” In some cases women got used to being violated and thought that it was something normal. Hence the woman lived in terror and always expecting/ waiting to be punished for any trivial issue or at the man’s pleasure.

2. A common cultural practice that violates the dignity of the woman is the female genital mutilation (FGM) practiced by several societies. The effects are severe as FGM and are associated with both psychological and health problems. Women risk infections; including problems in their urinary system, obstetric and gynecological complications, abdominal pain and may also emit discharges. The circumcision destroys sexual function and precludes enjoyment of sexual relations. The worst consequence includes the fact that those undergoing FGM risk infertility, complications during child births or to the extreme deaths during delivery.

3. GBV happens within families and takes place either under the full view of the public or in closed doors. The main victims are mostly women and children. There is acceptance of GBV in the families/community and lack of acceptance of sensitive issues; e.g.  talking about  sex is regarded as a taboo. On the other hand common language has been used to promote gender violence. Most words that demean women are considered as normal in the family and society. Hence suffering within a family may go on for a lifetime and may never be reported. Observers too may never intervene to help stopping it. The failure to report spousal violence is attributed to the  lack of community support and absence of approppriate community structures to combat it. On the other hand, the fact that the public (neighbours or friends) does not intervene, shows the extent in which GBV is generally an accepted and condoned societal norm.

4. On the other hand there are no specific anti-GBV laws under which perpetrators can be charged. Crimes of this nature therefore are tried under various laws, such as the penal code, sexual offenses act, counter trafficking act etc. This has the danger that in the long run the victims may not get justice in cases of severe bodily harm and the culprits walk free to continue abusing others women. There is also a feeling that there is little political will to tackle gender based violence by enacting the pending bills.

5. Efforts to address the problem of GBV is also hampered by lack of credible data. Or where this data exists it has never been used by researchers. This means therefore that there is a great divide between the academia, practitioners and policy makers. This divide is bound to make the different approaches to addressing the problem weaker.  However when researchers will find data depositories from the practitioners, then they will be able to show the magnitude of the problem. Understanding the scale, zenith and  scope of the problem will help both the state and the practitioners develop effective strategies to address GBV.

There is also a misconception of the role played by GBV researchers. They tend to merge gender work with feminine activism. Lack of awareness and sensitization among the people and misinformation on Gender; gender being regarded as wholly a women’s issue thus disassociation by men counterparts. Also there is a tendency that students working on gender  are not encouraged to pursue internship with organizations tackling the problem of  GBV. Universities on the other hand have missed in their role which is to teach, research and community outreach. University research should aim to impact communities and help initiate change where it is needed.

6. The conference also looked into human rights concerns and how women (and men) access and obtain justice. It was acknowledged that there are tremendous improvements in the way women victims of GBV are safeguarded.  However the challenge of reporting cases and successful prosecution remains a major impediment despite the presence of laws addressing Violence Against Women.

7. The government on the other hand has not treated the enactment of the pending gender related bills with urgency.  Article 45(5) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 mandated parliament to enact legislation for the protection of the family unit. One of the initiatives that have been undertaken is to consolidate all the laws governing marriage. Currently, the Protection against Domestic Violence Bill 2012, The Marriage Bill 2012, The Matrimonial Property Bill 2012 have been drafted and forwarded to the Commission on the Implementation of Constitution (CIC). Domestic Violence Bill 2012 besides providing the legal framework with a law specifically addressing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), also empowers the courts to provide protection and orders in favor of victims of domestic violence. Areas for advocacy explored at the meeting were:- The P3 forms and the gazettement of the post rape care (PRC), Funding for GBV, Policy reforms to include a special police unit on gender, Funding and services towards psychosocial support and related post IPV attention

8. The Kenyan Constitution has made Gender and women a core focus of our Nation. The Bills of  Rights provides for equality and freedom from discrimination; thus women and men have right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. Leadership and Integrity Bill – election of women to elective positions; 1/3 of women representatives in the parliament and all elective posts, The Legislature – Promotion of Marginalized Groups; women being part. Devolved Government – county executive committees; Stipulates that the numbers appointed under clause (2) (b) shall not exceed one-third of the county assembly, if the assembly has less than thirty members; or ten, if the assembly has thirty or more members. Land and Environment – Legislation on land; (iii)  that regulate the recognition and protection of matrimonial property and in particular the matrimonial home during and on the termination of marriage and (iv) protect the dependents of deceased person holding interests in any land, including the interest of spouses in actual occupation of land.

Combating GBV

1. There is a need to network with actors against GBV from all sectors of the society; practitioners, academia, policy makers and donors.

2. There is need to empower the women and the girls economically. The government could consider making a provision against GBV within the  National Budget. Women’s empowerment is critical to build a stable Nation and democratic societies.

3. Gender work should be guided by good research that borrows from multi-disciplinary perspectives? Researchers should also consider pursuing a multi-sectoral, dimensional and issues approaches; prevention of GBV, sexual issues, language, culture etc .

4. Create a gender based violence data base of researchers (men and women), , research on how constitution will help solve the  GBV challenge, research on how language escalates GBV, engagement of public/community in their issues, research on how technology can enhance or speed GBV (technology to collect and disseminate data).

5. Actors should be assisted to become socially innovative. This can be done through the formation of communities of practice that will enhance the emergence of best practice in combating the problem of GBV. Education should be a priority and it should reach all the structures of the society. Documentations will need to be made on the important dimensions of service such as advocacy, psycho-social assistance, economic assistance, legal assistance, safe havens etc. On the other hand it is important for organizations to share how they assist women and children victims from abusive family relationships by holistic services provision.

Call for Action


1. Ending gender-based violence will mean changing social cultural concepts about masculinity, and that process must actively engage men, whether they be policy makers, parents, spouses or young boys. Faith communities, corporations, institutions have a role to play in this process. The whole country should be educated to act against gender based violence.

2. The Government need to enact urgently the Marriage Bill 2012 and the Matrimonial Property Bill 2012, this will also help in defining gender based violence.

3. There should be interrogation of culture, traditions, attitudes and beliefs and lastly what kind of programs to put for different category of people.


4. There is need for regional mechanisms (for advocacy & lobby) that would see the government set space, policy and to do the implementation of programs to support women and girl child.

5. There is need for every one to watch their language as language can prevent or enhance GBV. Taking responsibility on language use, is therefore quite important.  Media  should also be careful to portray women as  language as sex symbols as they risk becoming platforms for GBV.

6. There is need to come up with simple programs of creating awareness and sensitization, social-economic and political empowerment of women and reinstatement/establishment of one stop centre.



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MM
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 22:45:38

    The report is thorough, it makes me feel its as if I was at the conference. Kudos to Milli

    I have a couple of bones to pick:
    1. Forming a GBV police unit -wouldn’t this be a waste of time and resources? I think it would be more rational to train the existing forces on GBV issues. Take for instance a scenario where members of the unit are out of the station, who will provide assistance to a GBV victim at that particular time?

    2. Combating GBV No 2- In this situation, it is assumed that the violence is meted out on females. Hence, wouldn’t men be advised to learn to sort out their issues peacefully? Be brought to understand that fighting, FGM e.t.c. is not the answer. (On a lighter note, lets take for instance that, mama watoto has made some really nasty tasting food for supper -instead of slapping her – economically empowering her will see that, if such a situation occurs, she is in a position of taking the family out to java for dinner).

    And on a serious note, kindly explain to me how the economical empowerment of women will reduce GBV. I think that in places such as Nyeri, it will actually increase the cases of GBV.

    Finally, I would recommend that some of the mentioned recommendations be set up in GBV prone/infested regions. If sensitization in those areas works, then replication should follow in other areas of the country.

    Thank you,



    • Millicent Agutu
      Aug 21, 2012 @ 07:52:59

      Dear MM,

      Thanks for your comments, concerns and recommendations. To start with your comment No. 1, Due to the un easy availability of police officers for trainings, I suppose if only GBV could be considered part of the police in service training, this could really work. Second, the only way to get men solve their issues peacefully will first of all need a redress of the social cultural concepts and contructs that has natured GBV, but we should remember that it could look peaceful but with psychological effects, and as such it may need to be holistic. Your question No. 3, How economic empowerment of women can reduce GBV?, I am sure it can, as we all know most of our societal problems rorate around poverty (poverty is a cross cutting issue in our society; call it insecurity, HIV/AIDS, Ileteracy), name all the evils in our society, and only in odd cases that they could rorate from a different perspective and if women could be self reliant this could highly reduce GBV as most women live in abussive relationships because of their children and given the perpetrators are the sole bread-winners they die in these relations (psychological, physical, emotional) without sharing nor reporting the acts meted to them. However for the Nyeri case of which it is the Male GBV, I think it has nothing to do with women empowerment, it could be something more, a research could enable us undertand it fully. Lastly thanks for your recommendations, that there is need for a trial of the GBV recommendation in the prone areas (Pokot and Kisii and Meru regions – known for FGM and Nyeri – Male GBV) that is very much possible with the availability of funds, but we should not forget that this is a serious issue in almost all communities except that it takes different dimentions from family to family, community to community, the dynamism surrounding it, the media attention to some areas more than others and lastly if victims do not share or report these issues as many happen under closed doors it becomes difficult to identity these acts.



  2. Moses Okoth
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 10:11:26

    It is so important to understand that every man has a nuanced relationship to the issue of violence against women and his own role in it. While we cannot come up with a cookie cutter program that will engage men, we can help them find their own entry point by discovering what that relationship is. Are they abusive or controlling in some way? Is there anything they could be doing differently in their relationships with women that would empower the women in their lives? These questions can be asked in ways that are liberating, rather than punishing. We all know that men are affected by the strictures of so-called manhood that this society places on them. They are lonely, dependent on external success to feel good about themselves, have to be sexually active (with women), not be emotional, or do anything that makes them seem girly. Men are literally dying to get out of the constraints placed on them.
    If we only talk to men about the “other guys” then we deny them what we know about liberation. We also set up competition. You win if you are only verbally abusive in a joking manner. You lose if you actually break her body. So, men, who are socialized to be competitive, don’t want to be associated with those bad guys. They don’t want to see anything that they might have in common with those guys. Bang. The door to self-reflection, to liberation is closed.
    I am calling on my sisters who want to engage men in the work of ending male violence against women to do these things:
    • Have high expectations. It is respectful of and helpful to the men we are trying to engage.
    • Expect men to organize other men.
    • Don’t draw false distinctions between good and bad men.
    • Hold male allies accountable to creating safe environments in which they can support each other and all men in their communities in examining their relationships with women.
    • It is critically important that we build partnerships with our male allies that require them to do the internal work that makes it possible for them to engage other men authentically.
    • Ask men in the movement to give fewer speeches about the problem and do more organizing to end male violence against women.
    • Tell the truth about the abuse of women. It encompasses a huge range of behaviors that have been and continue to be drummed in to men’s heads about what a real man does.
    • Hold men in the movement accountable for the way they treat us and each other. Expect them to be a model for other men who are seeking new ways to be men.
    This fight will ONLY end when men are the ones who decide to end the violence and communities take responsibility of making it happen.I loved the article the ONLY problem….is the fact that men were not taken into consideration….and a solution to this whole problem.



    • Millicent Agutu
      Aug 21, 2012 @ 08:18:51

      Dear Moses,

      Thanks for your comments, concerns and advice of involvement of men in GBV, in using liberating approach than pushing, helping men find whether their relationships are abusive or controlling. I agree with you that men are the ones to decide to to end GBV and the communities take responsibility of making it happen. However in certain circumstances decision can be made for them considering the situation at hand. That is why GBV is creating a platform to engage all the men (policy makers, researchers, academia, religious leaders, community leaders and the legislatures in GBV issues. I think I will keep you posted on any GBV conference, I think you have insights that could be helpful and more so being part of GBV.



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