Gender based violence (GBV) is a vice that has for a long time been in existence in our societies. It should not be! As there is no specific definition of GBV, I understand it as any form of violence involving men and women, in which to a greater percentage the female is usually the victim, and results from unequal power relations between men and women. Some evidenced examples of gender violence include physical abuse for instance, wife and husband battery ( domestic violence), burning or throwing of acid, sexual abuse ( rape, FGM, incest, infanticide, forced pregnancy, etc), gendered murder, forced marriage, human trafficking, psychological abuse ( death threats, abuse directed to demean a certain gender).
I know someone will be asking, so, apart from unequal power relations between men and women, what else would fuel gender violence?
Factors promoting gender based violence
The unequal power relations catalyzes the subordinate gender status of women often making them more vulnerable to violence in comparison to their male counterparts. Remember, the unequal power relations stem from continuous reinforcement of gender stereotypes. The stereotypes such as women are subordinate or dependent, men should dominate and are powerful, promote gender based violence when negatively taught and learnt. Negative masculinities such as aggressiveness, dominance, power and control have been attributed to cases of violence against women and girls, as well as fellow men.
Patriarchal societies that endorse masculinity and male dominance, have always perpetuated violence against women. This extends to a point that women have accepted such as “normal way of life” to live in the cycle and circle of violence and abuse.
Most cultures, institutions, beliefs and norms legitimize gender based violence. For instance, female genital cutting and mutilation, scarification, forced marriage, wife inheritance, community organized gang rapes, virginity tests, and so many other are culturally instigated and communities jubilate on. In real sense, these barbaric practices have detrimental health, physical and psychological impacts on the victims.
I understand there are even cultures, where women trigger their men to batter them because they understand they should receive a beating once in while to feel “loved.” Otherwise, if they are not battered they are not loved or their men are not men enough! This situation to greater extent has made so many women live in abusive relationships. And they have become attached too to their abusers-Stockholm syndrome!
As said the social construction of gender is a nexus and every society is unique in norms and customs regarding how men and women should express themselves. Male power and dominance has been a centre stage in which most violent cases emanate from. In his scholarly article, 7P’s of Men Violence:Michael Kaufman brings out an in depth analysis of why men are violent or tend to act violently towards women. Ranging from societal expectation pressures, childhood socialization, stereotypes to past experiences, there are several factors that make men vulnerable to becoming violent.
What can we do to address Gender based violence?
- First, there is urgent need to recognize various pressures placed on men that may result in violent acts. For instance, what education is been given to a boy child in regards to how they should grow, act and carry themselves. Is it the ideal man education! Illusion! Recently, a man in Nairobi committed suicide cause he could not raise school fee for his daughter. An action to cover shame from his neighbours! Too sad, isn’t it? My friend is so stressed cause her fiance won’t marry him until he buys a car! This are just a few cases of societal pressures men go through in silence and when the suppression is too high the pressure cooker bursts into flames!
- Family dialogues emphasizing importance of family and conflict resolution and peace building strategies should form a section of daily agenda on media programmes, civil society groups, CBOs, non profit organizations working on gender issues and families. Family is an integral part of society. Domestic violence has risen in the recent past. Someone told me that “the family unit has lost meaning” and I seconded it as a true allegation. Nowadays, husband and wife exchange words, blows, threats and batter one another in presence of their children. What knowledge these children acquire is how to become violent and get ready to exercise this a tender ages. Hence, the cyclical nature of gender based violence.
- A deep analysis of various forms of masculinities is needed to help in revealing the violent forms and work towards changing them.
- A gender perspective should be integrated in education system from primary level to create more awareness on different position of girls and boys within the family. This should work towards creating balanced personalities, enhance equality and mutual respect. The gender curriculum should emphasize on independence for both boys and girls, stress on qualities and values of fatherhood in boys and importance of family.
- Increasing the number of women in various legislative, political and administration sectors, will alter public opinion and attitude towards women and eventually promote respect for women rights through the decision made.
- Establishing grassroot support centers and therapy services to help men as wells as women to abandon their violent behavior may aid a great deal in curbing gender based violence.
- Economic empowerment is key in the eradication of gender violence. Poverty plays a big part in promulgation of GBV. It increases vulnerability and render many voiceless in situation of exploitation and misuse. For example, in a conflict situation, women and girls are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and in refugee camps. Last month, a police officer in Naivasha town shot his wife six times to death for allegedly “misusing” $40 (Kes 4000) meant for household and school fee. How many children have lost their lives after being battered to death for losing as little as KSH 20, or eating their younger child’s porridge? So many! Let’s empower everyone economically in all spheres.
- If more men took action in the fight against gender based violence, I think our society will be positioned on respect for human rights. Men who stand for their women encourage women to stand for them too. The narrative changes. Campaigns such as #HeforShe, 16 Days of Activism against Gender based violence are better examples encouraging men engagement in the fight against gendered violence.
There several methods and strategies that can be employed to curb gender based violence especially in Kenya. I appreciate efforts of civil societies and provisions in place to curtail and hold perpetrators of gender violence responsible such as Sexual Offences Act 2006, FGM Act 2011, the constitution and other safeguard policies.
It is everyone duty to stand in the front line in the fight against gender based violence.
Gender based violence in all it forms has never added value to both victims, survivors or perpetrators. In real sense it has deprived many their life, sense of worth, dignity, power and potential to contribute to growth and development and imprisonment. And thus, we should protect the vulnerable groups, otherwise we are all vulnerable!