We must challenge cultural norms that encourage GBV

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021 00:00 | By
Dr Lydia Mwaniki, Director for Gender, Women and Youth Department presents her book to Father Evangelos Thiani during the launch of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in Nairobi. Photo/PD/Harriet James

Dr Jeldah Nyamache       

In recent months, cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) have been on the rise in Kenya and globally.

It remains the most widespread form of human rights violation and one of the neglected outcomes of disasters such as the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This is because disasters lead to a breakdown of social infrastructure, high stress levels, exacerbated personal weaknesses and increase in conflicts. 

 Statistics show that approximately 35 per cent of women around the world will experience some form of violence during their lifetime. 

The endemic nature of GBV is rooted in structural gender inequalities and discrimination.

The subordinated gender (usually women) generally have less power and resources than their abusers. 

Gendered mechanisms at individual and societal levels lead to norms, values and practices which cause distinction between the sexes.

This distinction often assigns one gender as subordinate to the other. This means that most, if not all, important decisions are made by the “superior gender” which also manages most of the resources and formulates polices.

GBV takes different forms including physical and sexual assault, verbal abuse, female genital mutilation, emotional abuse, economic and psychological abuse.

These forms of violence are interconnected and commonly have intertwined root causes.

Perpetrators can be known or unknown, though in most cases they are known. They can be relatives, spouses, intimate partners and neighbours.

People from resource-limited communities, especially those living in poverty, are more prone to violence. 

GBV is one of the biggest barriers to social, political and economic development.

It not only devastates the lives of victims/survivors and their families and divides communities but also undermines development efforts and the building of just and peaceful societies.

Survivors get locked in frustration, and at times poverty, making them unable to fully exploit their potential, freedoms and rights. 

Efforts towards ending violence mostly focus on the survivors but don’t seem to look into the root causes, which also happen  to be embedded in culture.

For example, female children begin experiencing sexual and physical violence at the hands of boys and men they know well.

Boys on the other hand are socialised not to display vulnerability or appear weak. 

In some cultures, women are perceived as lesser humans. Girls face more severe punishment for mistakes at home while boys get away with a lot by virtue of their gender. 

These experiences and norms have damaging impacts on mental and physical health as well as increasing the likelihood of perpetuating the cycle of violence. 

Child sexual abuse is a positive predictor of intimate partner violence with child survivors being six times at a higher risk.

Children growing in violent households tend to have a higher risk of violence in adulthood. Survivors of GBV are generally more likely to re-experience or perpetrate violence. 

This state of affairs must be challenged as a matter of urgency. The blame, shame and stigma faced by survivors or victims and their families need to be eliminated.

Violence is the sole responsibility of the perpetrator, who must be held accountable according to national or international legislation.

Fear or threats of violence must not restrict the vulnerable from living free and full lives, nor from realising their full potential.

We all have a responsibility to create an enabling environment for these principles to thrive.

Everyone needs to know that discrimination tends to lead to violence while equality promotes peace in society.

Educating and promoting respectful relationships between everyone and cultivating mutual respect, gender equality and responsibility early in life will go a long way in fighting GBV. 

Cultures, values and norms are nurtured in childhood. Let us challenge any unjust cultural norms that encourage tolerance for violence. — The writer is a family practitioner — [email protected]

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