Date: Wed, 2 Dec 1998 15:22:24 -0600 (CST)
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Women Campaign For Constitutional Changes
By Judith Achieng', IPS, 27 November 1998
Nairobi, Nov 27 (IPS) - As part of this year's "16 days of activism" campaign, women's groups in Kenya have announced that they will press for the recognition of women's rights in the East African nation's constitution.
"We have noted that the Kenyan constitution does not guarantee women's rights, and that women have continued to be violated as a result of poor laws. We now demand that the government recognises all forms of violence and look at it as a criminal offence," Antonina Njau of the Coalition of Violence Against Women (COVAW), which is spearheading the campaign in Kenya, says.
The theme of Kenya's campaign this year is 'women's rights are human rights'. The '16 days of activism' against gender violence was launched Wednesday worldwide, and it ends Dec. 10, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
COVAW, a coalition composed of human rights groups, and men and women in their individual capacities, says it will particularly push for the repeal of sections of marriage, inheritance and ownership of property laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, and for the repeal of laws which condone harmful practices against women and girls, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The campaign also will focus on laws governing sex offences, such as rape. According to Anne Nyabera of the Kenya branch of the International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya), the law that is now on the books for rape, stipulates that victims must have their evidence corroborated.
Also, Nyabera adds, the law regards the rape of a minor as a less serious offence than that committed against an adult woman. In Kenya, the rape of a minor carries a maximum sentence of seven years, while for an adult, the maximum punishment is life in prison.
Police figures indicate that there were 1050 rape cases between January and September 1995, although women and legal experts say this is only a small fraction of the actual cases. "The legal regime is hostile to rape victims and more friendly to the offenders. Victims are traumatised further by having their evidence heard in public even though the crime is committed in secrecy," Nyabera says.
Beside figures on rape, other statistics on violence against women in Kenya are hard to find. Extreme cases of domestic violence are often reported in the media, like the recent case of Betty Kabata, who is now paralysed due to beatings from her husband.
Four months after the incident, Kabata's husband, a police officer, is still on the job and yet to be charged. Domestic violence is generally viewed as a "private" issue by the police, who turn away women who come to report their husbands.
As part of the 16-days campaign, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has sponsored a programme for training the Kenyan police on how to handle data, and how to handle women who are sexually and physically abused.
COVAW provides counselling for women, and according to Adelina Mwau, who heads COVAW, "we have seen more women reporting and coming to us for counselling", since the 16-days campaign was first launched in Kenya in 1996. The theme then was 'Breaking the Silence'.
Thirty-seven year old Lenah Kadeya, a survivor of domestic violence, now works as a counsellor for COVAW. "The last straw was when my mother-in-law supported my husband after he beat me in front of her and other relatives," she says. "But I realised in the end that I was the only one who could take the decision to break this cycle of violence."
September marked a milestone for women when a man was jailed for six months for domestic violence. Rights groups say the sentence was "too small a punishment, but a step in the right direction".
Mwau says this year's campaign will be a time to take stock. "Our mission is to eliminate violence against women both in the public and the private domain. This year, we are looking back to see what we have achieved so far."
On Dec. 5, there will be a march by men only through the streets of Nairobi to campaign against gender violence. And, this year's campaign also will go beyond the capital city to major towns like Mombasa and Kisimu and even to remote areas like Marsabit.
"The message of this year's campaign is to use the international focus on Kenya to achieve our aspirations as Kenyan women, " says Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki of Econews Africa, a Kenya-based human rights group.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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