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By Anne Kiruku
East African News Agency

Arusha 9 December 2017 (EANA) – As the 16 days of activism 2017 come to a close, the East African Community partner states have had little to celebrate; indeed, the silence has been deafening across all the region even as the rest of the world commemorates this annual event.

The International 16 Days of Gender Activism, a global campaign which kicked off on 25 November and run up to 10 December, aims at raising awareness around the world on issues of violence against women and girls. It cannot be denied that women from across the region have been going through some of the worst forms of gender-based violence in the recent past.

The violence meted out to our women has ranged from age-old retrogressive cultural practices to domestic violence and, recently, the growing cyber bullying. The list of abuses is endless and keeps growing.

President John Magufuli

Though gender violence against women and girls has been largely confined to the very poor in society, the trend is now affecting all women. From the most underprivileged and marginalised to well-educated women, gender violence now cuts across the board.

The worst affected have been the highly marginalised groups such as refugees, migrants, rural and slum dwellers, who not only have to deal with debilitating poverty but also the constant threat of gender violence.
It is unfortunate that despite intensive campaigns to end gender-based violence in the world, women continue to suffer at the hands of men. Globally, reports indicate that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

One of the worst forms of gender-based violence – sexual abuse – has been particularly rampant in region and especially among the very poor. Roughly 20 per cent of women have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18, while reports indicate that over seven per cent of women and girls older than 15 years have experienced non-partner sexual violence.

Dealing with gender-based violence should now be a priority for any government worth its salt. Developing support programmes for professionals – especially those in the health, education and faith based sectors – will ensure a high percentage of the society is educated on ways of dealing with the vice.

The health sector has to take up a more proactive role in providing gender-based clinical services, especially to lower-level health facilities. Such health facilities are especially handy in providing emergency contraceptives and HIV post-exposure prophylaxis.

Even more importantly, leaders have to scale up preventive measure that address gender-based violence.

One of the major causes of gender-based violence is unequal gender power relations. Empowering women is critical in ensuring gender gaps are sealed. Educating women and supporting girl-child education is key in this struggle. Still, fighting retrogressive cultural practices will go a long way in ensuring that as many girls as possible are educated and hence able to fight off gender-based violence.

Although the region has made great strides in dealing with gender violence, a lot still needs to be done.

Affirmative action is slowly taking shape, and women are getting economically empowered with a largernumber than ever before joining decision making positions. Many more have joined elective politics.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli made history by appointing the country’s first woman vice president in a Cabinet that contained 19 women. Three women governors and three women senators were also elected in the recent Kenyan elections, making them the first women to win these powerful elective posts in the country.

Unfortunately, the constitutionally-enshrined two-thirds gender principle, which would have ensured that no gender gets more than two-thirds of public appointments, has remained a pipe dream in Kenya. Lack of political goodwill to implement the rule is to blame for the stalemate.

The fight against gender violence is not a battle between men and women. Reports indicate that in the recent past, the number of men being physically abused by women who are intimately related to them is on the rise. It is therefore imperative for both genders to raise their voices against all forms of violence.

Gender-based violence is a huge barrier to achieving sustainable development. Goal 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals recognises that gender equality forms the foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. The goal, which calls for elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, must lay the foundation of both regional and national laws that are geared towards protecting women from gender violence.


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