Families need support to avoid GBV, experts say

Families need support to avoid GBV

Gender-based violence often takes many forms and different nuances. However, even the most experienced counsellors admit to occasionally being taken aback by some vicious, unusual form of violence. This has particularly been the case during Covid-19.

Such was the situation with Hawa Abdul Ghafoor. A Clinical Officer, a Reproductive Health Officer and a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) counsellor in Hola Sub-County in Tana River County, Hawa was chilled to the bone by a particular case that dropped on her desk. It was a case of a woman attacked by her neighbour.

“She said there’s a fence between her home and the neighbour’s,” Hawa narrates. “The neighbour, a man who was new in the area, spoke to her across the fence to basically make an unusual request: his house did not have a functional septic tank. Could he direct his waste to hers?” Naturally, the woman refused. She was a widow and had high blood pressure issues. Perhaps the unusual request should have been a flashing red light, for the man launched into a tirade against the woman, calling her names and saying that she was HIV-positive. She did not have time to be shocked by his verbal assault: he leapt over the low fence separating the two compounds.

“He ran to her, pushed her against the wall and got hold of one of her breasts, which he twisted and squeezed. The woman fell down unconscious. However, the screams of children playing nearby alerted neighbours who came running. The culprit took off and is being sought by the police up to now. The woman had to be taken to hospital.”

When Hawa met the woman, she was hysterical with extremely high blood pressure. Doctors described her breast as traumatised. She was tormented not only by the assault and the possibility that a man she didn’t know knew her intimately enough to claim to know her HIV status, but also by the thought that she might actually have HIV. She demanded an immediate test of her HIV status. When it returned negative, she got much needed relief in the midst of great trauma.

“Clearly,” Hawa says, “that man is a pervert. I’ve dealt with many cases of GBV but never heard of anything like that, a man inflicting pain on a woman’s breast, a woman he did not know.”

Hawa estimates that GBV cases have grown by as much as 70 per cent. During the five days preceding my interview with her on September 18, 2020, she had attended to 12 cases. Even in a community that practised early marriage such as is found in Tana River County and where GBV is fairly common, this was a new record.

“The communities around here practice both early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM),” says Hawa. “Once these young underage girls have undergone FGM, they’re taught that they’re ready to be wives.” The boys don’t fare a lot better. Their lives consist in herding cattle. So they too are very ready to be husbands. Such an arrangement, combined with their ages, means a lot of married young girls are more than likely to experience GBV.

Hawa has made it her mission to promote the welfare of girls and woman. She particularly teaches the young girls that if they are educated and get good jobs, they’re unlikely to be beaten by men.

In Siaya County, Tina Nyandori, also a GBV specialist, says the violence sometimes goes beyond the bounds of gender. They touch the most vulnerable members of the society – children. A noteworthy case she has recently handled during her radio show on Ratego FM involved a group of children. The siblings called the show to say they had fled their home because their parents were fighting too frequently. When they complained, they got beaten too. “The children, two girls and a boy, were in classes 5, 7 and 8. Though they knew their parents fought, being in boarding school saved them from witnessing it. Corona virus created the perfect storm for them to witness first-hand what it was like,” Tina says.

She couldn’t handle the case alone. So she brought the government’s Children’s Department onboard. She believes the case got appropriate attention because the children later called to say they were now OK. Tina isn’t sure, however, because GBV tends to leave lifelong psychological scars on children.

“GBV cases have spiked during Covid-19,” says Tina, “Families are home together – husband, wife and children. There’s a lot of pressure and not just because people lost jobs and incomes. People are learning to stay together in closed spaces. Unfortunately, some aren’t doing great in that. The surprising thing is the forms it takes. GBV is neither always physical nor always perpetrated by males. It can be physical, mental or emotional and even men get subjected to it.”

Tina recently came across a man who lost his job. He had been working in Nairobi but when Corona happened and he lost his job, he travelled to siaya to join his wife and children. Unable any more to support his family financially, he was down emotionally. Unfortunately, the wife began to taunt his manhood, saying he wasn’t man enough if he couldn’t pay rent. “She actually told him that if he couldn’t take care of them, he was not needed any more,” Tina says.

The man, feeling that this was violence upon his person and that if he did not get help he would do something regrettable, called Tina. One of their children, a Form 2 student, moved out of home to avoid listening to the mother taunt their dad.

After the man called the radio station and spoke with Tina, she sought to hear the wife’s side of the story. She was surprised by the vastness of her expectations. “Her complaints were that the husband was not providing but had savings. The husband said the savings were for the children’s school fees when schools opened. He didn’t want to touch that in case he would still be jobless.”

The intractable case was difficult to solve. According to Tina, it raised the question of whether the couple had really known each other well before they got married. They seemed distanced in their expectations of each other and were struggling to build a quality relationship.

Tina says that though the amount of time Covid-19 has gifted families together was a positive, some people find it hard to bear each other’s presence. “Even the children are learning their parents in a new light.”

In mitigation, Tina recommends the involvement of local administrations so that families are surrounded by a supportive environment.

This article is part of the DigiRedio Social and Behaviour Change Platform powered by the Centre For Behaviour Change and Communication. The two-way COVID-19 risk communication and community engagement through radio aims to help create and sustain preventive behaviours and complement control measures against COVID-19 in Kenya. This project is implemented in 33 radio stations in 30 Counties through the Ministry of Health with support from the American People through the USAID.

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