Against increasing cases of raping of women, girl-child defilement and violence at home against women, Kenyans joined the rest of the world to begin marking the sixteen days of activism in eliminating violence against women.
This year, the theme is: ‘for the health of women, for the health of the world, no more violence.’
This theme is derived from the problem of HIV and AIDS, afflicting more women than men especially those in the age bracket of 15 to 24.
With the Nairobi Women Hospital, a private entity dedicated to treating rape victims recording ten admissions of rape cases daily, this year’s theme could not have come at a better time, said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director, of United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Violence against women is both a cause and consequence of rising rates of HIV infection: a cause because rape and sexual assault pose a major risk factor for HIV transmission, and consequence because HIV-positive status makes women more likely to be targeted for abuse. Often, the perpetrator of violence is an intimate partner.
Deeply rooted in unequal power relations, sexual violence occurs because women cannot negotiate safe sex or refuse unwanted intercourse from their partners.
Violence is tied also to the brutality of war, where women's bodies have become part of the battlefield.
Heyzer says that the systematic rape of women has dramatically increased the HIV-infection rates leading to the destruction of women's lives and the shattering of families and communities.
Yet when a woman discloses that she is sero-positive she may be attacked or ostracized because of the stigma that is brought on the family.
Pregnant women often are tested for HIV at prenatal clinics and therefore more likely to be diagnosed than their male partners.
Heyzer adds that as a result, they are accused of being the source of HIV transmission. And, because women are less likely than men to receive treatment, they are also more likely to die.
Heyzer gives ways in which this can be eliminated by affirming that, “first, countries must pass and enforce laws to deter acts of violence against women and reduce the spread of HIV.
While many have strong laws in place, these are rarely implemented effectively, reducing their positive impact. With the help of the Trust Fund, grantees will increase their capacity to formulate domestic violence legislation, train judicial and law enforcement personnel to implement it and help bolster the provision of services for victims of gender-based violence.”
Secondly, she adds that women who have suffered abuse should be encouraged to speak out. A life free of violence is their right. We have to break the culture of shame and stigma so that women can share their experiences and concerns.
In the coming year, the Trust Fund will support positive women's networks to break down the stigma and help establish solidarity groups for rape victims to call attention to the crimes committed against them.
“Third, we must continue to raise awareness on the links between violence against women and HIV/AIDS. The media is a key actor in this effort and several of these Trust Fund grantees will use radio and TV programmes to alert, to inform and to trigger change. It is also crucial to engage men and boys in this campaign — so they can be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” says Heyzer.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres, violence against women is closely connected to complex social conditions such as poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, child mortality, maternal ill-health and HIV/AIDS.
The United Nations Population Fund has found that violence kills as many women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer; that worldwide, one in three women has been beaten, coerced into unwanted sexual relations, or abused; and that roughly 80 per cent of the 800,000 people trafficked across borders each year are women and girls.
"Violence against women," the organizers of the 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence against Women say, "is a pandemic, one that transcends the bounds of geography, race, culture, class and religion."
When families are dispersed, communities broken and social networks destroyed, women and girls are even more vulnerable to this pandemic. Whether it is in large camps or in very poor urban areas, refugee women are especially at risk, a reality that UNHCR says it recognizes and is trying to address.
"We know that they are constantly subject to violence, abuse and exploitation in many operations around the world," said Guterres/.
From 25 November, the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women, to 10th of December, people around the world are coming together to condemn this universal crime against women.