Kenya's GBV battle is behind closed doors


Women in Kitui County, Kenya, are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence. A significant number of cases occur in the household, shielded behind closed doors and justified by cultural practices, patriarchy, and limited education on rights. 

Kitoo Secondary School performing a skit on GBV and teenage pregnancy. Photo/ Tabitha Icuga
Kitoo Secondary School performing a skit on GBV and teenage pregnancy. Photo: UN Women/ Tabitha Icuga

"Most women in Kitui believe that being beaten by our husbands is normal,” says Jackline Mutuko, 36, and mother of three. She continues, “boys are given priority for school opportunities and early marriages are acceptable. Men are expected to provide for the house while the women do all the housework and look after the children."

Violence in any form is a violation of human rights and in Kenya, national data shows that over 80% of GBV survivors reported the perpetrators to be either a current of former husband or partner. Additionally, 42% of women and men still believe that wife beating was acceptable under some conditions. 

In addition to transforming harmful norms and practices, empowering women economically is an important component in fighting GBV. Economic empowerment helps reduce power imbalance in relationships - something which often prevents survivors escaping abusive relationships. Training women-led community groups is an effective way to increase financial literacy and help foster community saving schemes like table banking method. It also provides women with added income which make a difference to their household. Jackline, who is also a member of Kivio World View Group, has now been supporting her husband with some of the household bills. 

"In these tough economic times, I can now support my husband settle some of the bills. I feel happier when we support each other, rather than asking for money to buy food," she explains. Jackline is also one of 20 fully fledged community champions, tirelessly making the effort "to talk to women and men in church, groups, during funeral or any other gathering I find, to help spread awareness on GBV, how to prevent and respond to it.”

Unity is strength 

At Kitoo Secondary School, a mixed day and boarding school, students begin performing a series of skits they have been rehearsing for weeks. The themes are related to different forms of violence, including performances that focus on teenage pregnancies.

“According to police reports in Kitui, 4,128 teenage girls were confirmed pregnant in 2021,” says Dorcas Mwendwa, the school's head teacher. “Through these engaging and fun activities, including sports, we help educate the students and the community; mitigation begins with equipping the students, teachers, parents and community with the right information and tools. We have to do this while they are still young,” adds Ms Mwendwa. Working with 22 football clubs and many more schools, these integrated GBV messages have reached more than 3253 people in the local community. 

"We have to work together to ensure that women, girls, boys and men are sensitized to form respectful relationships amongst themselves and support and protect survivors from further harm," says Mary Njeri, UN Women Programme Specialist on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls.

As the cost of living up goes up, and scarcity of resources spread in Kenya, working together to end gender- based violence remains key. “ I know now that GBV is also fueled by lack of resources but now I am able to contribute to ease the burden in my house. I will keep informing my fellow women that being beaten is not OK! We have to report these violations,” concludes Jackline.

UN Women Kenya partners with World Vision Kenya and Kenya's State Department for Gender to implement the 'Strengthening Households in Ending Long term Discrimination Against Women and Girls (SHIELD) Project in Kitui, Turkana, Kwale and Marsabit counties. The project has been supported by the Government of Finland since 2021 and focuses on commnunity engagment for GBV prevention, strengthening survivors' access to justice, and support to local government to develop sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) laws and policies.