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RIGHTS-KENYA: “He Dismissed Me to Return Home and Satisfy My Husband”

Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Dec 7 2006 (IPS) - “I ran to the police station on two occasions after my husband had come home late at night…and started hitting me, chasing me around the house holding a knife. This happened many times, until one day he cut my palm and cheek,” recounts Linda*.

“The first time I got to the police station, the officer at the counter teased me that perhaps it was because I was not satisfying my husband sexually. He smiled as he dismissed me to return home and satisfy my husband, saying this would be the end of the beatings.”

It wasn’t – but Linda received no more help in the course of her second visit to police in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, than during her first. When she returned to the same station, Linda told IPS, she was turned away by a policeman who said her complaint was not a matter for the authorities. Now she sees no point in reporting abuse, even though her husband continues to batter her.

This account is one of several being voiced during ’16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’ – an annual campaign marked in Kenya and other countries around the world, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10.

While police indifference plays a part in discouraging women from reporting violence, so do cultural attitudes that lead women to see battering as normal.

“Some women have been socialised to accept that it is in order to be beaten, and that there is no need to report such matters. This calls for an awareness creation exercise to let women know that being beaten or violated is inhuman,” said Jane Onyango, executive director of the Kenyan chapter of the Federation of Women Lawyers.

The absence of legislation on domestic abuse has complicated matters in Kenya still further.

“We have no legal framework to address this matter. How can winning the war against domestic violence, particularly violence against women, even be possible?” asks Emma Nungari, deputy executive director of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness. This Nairobi-based organisation champions the rights of women, attending to at least three cases of domestic violence daily.

A domestic violence and family protection bill was introduced in parliament in 2000 while Daniel arap Moi was in power that sought to outlaw physical, sexual and mental abuse – and compel courts to take action to protect women from violent partners. It also provided for abused spouses and children to seek compensation from a special government fund for covering the costs of medical treatment, legal assistance and counseling.

However, the bill was not passed. The present government of Mwai Kibaki has also failed to push through the bill, having spent much of its legislative energy on the constitutional reform process.

A draft constitution presented to the public last year addressed a number of issues that the domestic violence bill would have dealt with, gender experts say. However, the draft was rejected during a referendum. And, with elections due next year, the chances of the bill being reintroduced for debate are slim.

“Eventually the bill will be passed. But how soon this will be done is what we do not know. In the meantime, without such a law we cannot go far,” said Peterlis Nyatuga, chief executive officer of the government-appointed National Commission on Gender and Development.

The commission, which is charged with conducting research on gender violence in Kenya and advising officials accordingly, recently carried out a study on the extent of domestic violence in the East African country.

Published in May this year, the ‘Desk Survey on Gender Issues in Kenya’ says there were 9,169 cases of assault and battery, and 3,509 cases of attempted rape and rape in 2005 – compared to 8,959 assault and battery cases and 2,908 rape and attempted rape cases in 2004.

More positively, a bill that spells out minimum and maximum sentences for rape and defilement was passed earlier this year.

The penal code previously stipulated only maximum sentencing for sexual offences, leaving minimum sentencing at the discretion of magistrates who were at liberty to give offenders just a day in jail – or even community service.

Under the new Sexual Offences Bill, rape now carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in jail, and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The bill also addresses the problem of marital rape.

Of concern, however, are claims that police and magistrates are failing to familiarise themselves with new law, an even continuing to use old legislation related to sexual offences. While Kenya may have made progress with policy when it comes to sexual crimes, practice – it would appear – is still lagging behind.

* Name changed to protect the person’s identify.

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