NJERI RUGENE

By NJERI RUGENE
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A couple of weeks ago, Agnes Odhiambo, a senior researcher on women’s rights and advocate at the Human Rights Watch, reported the death of a woman as a result of rape and torture by a group of men during the 2007 post-election violence.

Dr Odhiambo said the woman — whom she had come to know through her situation — had lived a miserable life, struggling with poor health as a result of that grim and awful incident in December 2007. She succumbed to the emotional hurt, trauma and physical wounds late June.

That 12 years and counting hundreds of innocent women, girls, and even men, who suffered harrowing sexual assault by marauding gangsters in their own country are yet to get recourse or compensation tells a lot about how much our society disregards sexual crimes. We can be cruel.

In the 2016 report, Dr Odhiambo, for instance, says she spoke to 163 women and girls and nine men who survived that brutality. But despite a commitment and assurance by the authorities, these victims have largely been ignored. Further, according to HRW, these survivors did not get support to deal with the trauma of rape and related abuse or even medical care from the government when it happened and in the years that followed.

It appears that Dr Odhiambo and other Kenyans who have followed this issue closely and with interest have now set their eyes and hope on Parliament in as far as compensation is concerned. And I agree with them, as I cast my hope there too, with the expectation that the House will eventually approve The Kenya Reparations Bill 2019, sponsored by Uasin Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Shollei.

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Ms Shollei’s draft law seeks a channel through which the State can recognise and compensate Kenyans whose human rights have been violated between December 12, 1963, when the country attained independence, to October 2, 2014.

The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), whose report was never implemented, covers this period. Victims and survivors of the horrific sexual attacks in the barbaric, brutal and primitive 2007/2008 post-election violence fall in this category.

This, surely, is not the way to handle victims of rape and related sexual violence. For the country to deal with the unending and apparently rising cases of rape, defilement and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, the authorities, from the grassroots to the national level, must show commitment to dealing with this criminality through action and desist from empty rhetoric.

Sexual violence, which especially targets women and girls, and sometimes boys, must be dealt with at all fronts. And the fight must go hand in hand with placing victims at the centre of it — the healing, protection and seamless reintegration into the society to ensure that after the trauma, they will lead a normal life.

It is the duty of the leaders to guarantee the welfare of such women, children and men.

I often come across concerns and frustrations from individuals, especially those in the women’s rights movement or are colleagues in the media, who wonder aloud why sexual violence continues unabated, and even appears to increase, in the face of so much sensitisation and “empowerment’’ efforts in communities and nationally.

But I dare say that people who should know better and are in positions of leading the way in fighting this horrendous violence and protecting the victims do just the opposite. They are in the Judiciary, provincial administration, schools and even families. Through their misguided or even deliberate decisions, they expose children and women to sexual violence and trauma by their acts of omission and commission.

I know of a case where a magistrate has ordered that a child who is under protection at a safe house after she was defiled by a much older man at an estate be taken back home — to a hostile community, with the abuse still fresh in their minds.

It is time we devised a comprehensive strategy of protecting the vulnerable against such violations and take good care of the victims.