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In observance of the 16 Days of Activism campaign, The Royal Commonwealth Society will be posting a series of blogs. Today, Faith Nafula Wafula highlights gender based violence in Kenyan universities. 

‘University student, Charity Maina, raped and murdered. Vicious rape, murder quashes dreams of campus girl’, Standard Newspaper, 2nd May 2015

‘University female student leaders seek justice for raped student’, NTV News, 2nd August 2014

‘Organized rape Rampant in Universities’, Standard Newspaper, August 15th 2014

‘University student raped and murdered by neighbour', May 28th 2012

These are just the tip of the iceberg that is sexual and gender based violence in Kenyan institutions of higher learning. Heartbreaking stories of despair and absolutely outrageous acts against the rights and dignity of the victims and survivors.

Gender based violence is a pandemic perpetrated mainly against women and children, resulting in physical, sexual or psychological harm. The United States Agency for International Development and UNICEF research uncovers the following staggering statistics:

  • 83% of women and girls in Kenya report one or more episodes of physical abuse in childhood; and
  • 46% of women report at least one incident of sexual abuse as a child.

Culture and negative stereotypes are formed throughout childhood and extend into adulthood, affecting marriages and relationships. If these stereotypes are addressed at an early age, gender based violence  incidences can be substantially reduced.

Gender based violence affects youth in numerous ways. Statistics show that 25% of girls between 15 and 19 years old report losing their virginity by force. Despite this, not enough focus is placed on youth when it comes to gender policy creation and programs.

Kenya has 53 universities, and the number keeps growing. Out of the 240,550 university students in Kenya (as of 2013), 116,115 are female. Despite the large numbers, universities have inadequate safety measures to protect students from sexual assault. There is a clear research gap on sexual and gender based violence in Kenyan universities as sexual assault and sexual harassment in universities remains largely understudied, unreported and unpunished.

However, all is not lost. Government, civil societies and campus administrations continue to make efforts towards addressing sexual and gender based violence in universities. Awareness raising efforts and student engagement continues in institutions and universities strive to fill the existing structural gaps that make sexual and gender based violence so rampant.

In October, Strategic Applications International, in collaboration with AuthorAid through its youth program SEMA, held a policy conference to address sexual and gender based violence at the University of Nairobi. The conference included participation from medical, psychosocial, security, alcohol & substance abuse departments, with most of the representation being from the student government. Government and civil society organisations working within gender based violence were also represented. This multi-departmental and multi-sectoral engagement resulted in the creation of 22 policy recommendations and an action plan for the university. The process was strengthened by making the students an integral part of the entire process. This ensured that the recommendations were made with the students’ needs and opinions at the centre.

Some of the recommendations included working with the university’s administration to create a gender based violence policy, working with the medical team to create procedural guidelines for addressing rape cases within the campus, improving departmental collaboration and streamlining the referral structures that exist in addressing sexual & gender based violence cases.

This was a huge step because it showed the university’s commitment to make the campus safer for all students, particularly the female students. The action steps implementation process shall begin in 2017, as we work towards ensuring that every university in Kenya, both private and public, has a gender based violence policy and adequate implementation strategies.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.